The God of Small Things

We have a problem in the Vicarage, and for once it may not be the Vicar’s fault.  For the last couple of weeks, we’ve been feeling a bit itchy; and, judging by the amount of both scratching and moaning, so has the Vicar.

It turns out that despite the Vicar putting weird stuff on the back of our necks every month, we have some unwelcome guests in the house.  Of course, we are putting the blame squarely on the backs of the unwelcome guests we get in the garden.  It ought to be obvious that we’re not interested, but we still have a number of toms dropping in and trying to win our affections.

Martha’s stepped up her border patrols, Mary’s an expert at looking menacing and both of us are adept at chasing the boys off our turf, but still they try their luck when they think we’re not looking.  Now it seems they are giving us their fleas as a token of their esteem; and quite frankly, we’re not happy about it.

At first, we thought it might be some new form of stealth warfare, but Arfer and the rest aren’t really the stealthy type.  We find it hard to believe that anyone would be so daft as to try and woo a girl with a flea, but the Vicar tells us that a 17th Century Dean of Saint Paul’s Cathedral called John Donne once used this technique to great effect.

Of course, we’ve always known that small is powerful – after all, the toms are at least twice our size, and we still manage to send them packing.  But if you consider the size of the average flea relative to the amount of fuss the Vicar is making about her fleabites, you’ll soon realise that sometimes the smaller things are, the more effective they can be.

There are plenty of examples of this in the Bible.  David the shepherd boy killed Goliath the huge warrior, and Gideon’s depleted army was victorious over the mighty Midianites.

Jesus often talked about the Kingdom as being something small, like yeast or a mustard seed.  Precisely because the Kingdom starts out tiny, it can infiltrate the world bit by bit, just as a speck of yeast can make the whole loaf rise, or a tiny seed can grow into a giant tree.

And it’s not just physical size that matters in the Gospel either.  Jesus often called his followers “little ones.”  Throughout the Bible, God is concerned for the little folk in society – widows and orphans, the poor, the sick and the marginalised, anyone whom the world regards as of little account.

It’s tempting to think that the little folk – small, powerless and voiceless – can have no effect on the great wheels of empire or big business.  But when little folk band together, they can become a much more powerful force – perhaps not by a great show of strength, but little by little, as this poem by Sylvia Plath illustrates:

Overnight, very
Whitely, discreetly,
Very quietly

Our toes, our noses
Take hold on the loam,
Acquire the air.

Nobody sees us,
Stops us, betrays us;
The small grains make room.

Soft fists insist on
Heaving the needles,
The leafy bedding,

Even the paving.
Our hammers, our rams,
Earless and eyeless,

Perfectly voiceless,
Widen the crannies,
Shoulder through holes. We

Diet on water,
On crumbs of shadow,
Bland-mannered, asking

Little or nothing.
So many of us!
So many of us!

We are shelves, we are
Tables, we are meek,
We are edible,

Nudgers and shovers
In spite of ourselves.
Our kind multiplies:

We shall by morning
Inherit the earth.
Our foot’s in the door.

Mushrooms we like, fleas we don’t; but both are good examples of the way the Kingdom is built and justice is fought for and gained. 

Faced with the might of the Roman Empire, many of Christ’s contemporaries either submitted and were downtrodden or tried to fight violence with violence, and were crushed.  Jesus taught that we should struggle for the Kingdom in a different way: little by little, brick by brick, person by person.  Love and justice are infectious; as people start to catch the vision of a renewed earth, resistance against oppression and violence grows, until eventually even the greatest of worldly Empires will fall to the Kingdom of Christ.

So next time you’re bitten by a flea, stung by a nettle, or bothered by a paper cut, remember the parables of Christ; remember that even Rome, still the largest Empire the world has ever known, eventually fell.  Remember, above all, that it’s the little folks who will inherit the Kingdom of God.

A Pict Song by Rudyard Kipling
Rome never looks where she treads.   
Always her heavy hooves fall
On our stomachs, our hearts or our heads;   
And Rome never heeds when we bawl.
Her sentries pass on-that is all,    
And we gather behind them in hordes,
 And plot to reconquer the Wall,    
With only our tongues for our swords.
We are the Little Folk-we!    
Too little to love or to hate.
Leave us alone and you’ll see    
How we can drag down the State!
We are the worm in the wood!    
We are the rot at the root!
We are the taint in the blood!    
We are the thorn in the foot!
Mistletoe killing an oak-    
Rats gnawing cables in two-
Moths making holes in a cloak-    
How they must love what they do!
Yes-and we Little Folk too,    
We are busy as they-
Working our works out of view-    
Watch, and you’ll see it some day!
No indeed! We are not strong,    
But we know Peoples that are.
Yes, and we’ll guide them along    
To smash and destroy you in War!
We shall be slaves just the same?    
Yes, we have always been slaves,
But you-you will die of the shame,    
And then we shall dance on your graves!
We are the Little Folk-we!    
Too little to love or to hate.
Leave us alone and you’ll see    
How we can drag down the State!
We are the worm in the wood!    
We are the rot at the root!
We are the taint in the blood!    
We are the thorn in the foot!

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