The Mustard Seed

MV614 034-LR

Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”

With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.

Mark 4:30-34

Parallel Text: Matthew 13:31-35

The Parable of the Mustard Seed is one of the best known of Jesus’ teachings; we cite it often as a teaching on faith, but that is not what this parable is about. The faith connection comes from Matthew 17:20, which is not a parable. Rather, the Parable of the Mustard Seed is about the Kingdom.  I doubt that Jesus was intending to give a lecture on botany here, but He clearly used frames of reference His listeners were familiar with: Mustard seeds are tiny, yet they grow into very large plants.

That is the point of the metaphor, tiny seed becomes very big plant. How does this apply to the Kingdom?

If I was an atheist, I would be asking myself how it is possible that an obscure travelling teacher from first century Galilee is still a controversial figure all over the world twenty centuries after his death. Yes, that’s right, a carpenter’s son born in a stable who grew up in flyover country became the most influential figure in history, yet he never traveled more than a hundred miles or so from his birthplace.

After his death, a ragtag bunch of misfits from the provinces, just a handful of them mind you, unleashed a revolutionary idea in the minor provincial capital of Jerusalem. They were opposed by the greatest power the world had ever seen, and Mr. Atheist, you are still opposing this teaching today. How could this have happened? It’s simply incredible!

As Jesus told us, the Kingdom is like that. A tiny seed grows into the largest of garden plants, big enough to give shelter to the birds; it just wouldn’t seem likely at all… but there it is.  It isn’t reported in the text, but I have a hunch this is what Jesus explained to His disciples. Yes, they were obscure, true, they weren’t important big shots from famous and powerful families, and they were young, very young.  Yet, in spite of all outward appearances, they made a huge mark on history, and more importantly, they made a huge difference for God’s salvation plan, in spite of all apparent circumstances.

Don’t you suppose that Jesus would tell us the same thing? I doubt that the President of the United States is reading this post today, not the Prime Minister of Great Britain, nor, frankly anybody of fame or power. More likely, those who read this are just like his disciples, regular folks, no outward appearance of influence or authority. You and I are mere mustard seeds in a sense, small, not really noticed in our celebrity crazed world, yet full of life’s power and potential. Should we allow it, He can and will do a mighty work in and through us and His Kingdom will grow and flourish in spite of all the odds, in spite of the naysayers, and in spite of the guffaws of others. Why?

That’s an easy one: Because the Kingdom is like that!

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11 thoughts on “The Mustard Seed”

  1. I appreciate the perspective, especially the logic. Regardless of our age, social status, education, etc., we are living examples of what life can be – good or not-to-good. Personally I am a better person while I let a stronger, purer light shine through me, (despite whatever shade I wear). I’m good being a blooming plant in the garden. : )

  2. Thanks, Don. There is major disagreement on the correct interpretation of the birds that nested in the branches of the mustard plant. Some say it’s a reference to OT passages that prophesied the inclusion of Gentiles in the kingdom (Ezekiel 17:23, 31:6, and Daniel 4:21). Others say the birds represent Satan, demons, and worldliness i.e., the church will grow to be large and institutionalized, becoming the home of demons and unbelievers as well as believers. The supporters of this interpretation argue Jesus had used birds as symbols of demonic powers at the very beginning of the discourse. What’s your take?

    1. My take is that the birds are mere a device to show how big the plant can grow from such a tiny seed to show how big the Kingdom will become from a small beginning; it shows the life power of God. I think this is such a clear and simple illustration that only a scholar could miss it. 🙂

      1. Fair enough but I lean towards the birds = demons inhabiting the burgeoning church interpretation, especially since Jesus equated birds to demons in the preceding seed parable and also because the early church did mushroom into an institution that often had more regard for earthly wealth and power than following Jesus Christ.

  3. “You and I are mere mustard seeds in a sense, small, not really noticed …, yet full of life’s power and potential. Should we allow it, He can and will do a mighty work in and through us” Wow. Sometimes I need to see this in black and white so it really sinks in. Thank you, Don.

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