Parable of the Mustard Seed
Bible Background: This parable appears in Mark 4, Matthew 13, and Luke 13, where Jesus is using parables-especially about ‘growing’ things-to describe what the kingdom of God is like. It’s been a common Sunday School lesson for generations, because it’s so short and sweet! If only it were so simple!
Digging Deeper: 1. Keep in mind, Jesus speaks about the “Kingdom of God” more than any other subject (Mark=14x’s, Luke=32x’s, Matthew “Kingdom of Heaven”=29x’s, John=2x’s). That’s a lot! Often, he invites his listeners to wrap their hearts and heads around the concept of God’s kingdom by using parables. We get the picture that the kingdom is surprising, wonderful, inclusive, important enough to give everything we’ve got in order to be part of it!
2. Remember, we also pray Thy kingdom come, each time we pray the Lord’s Prayer! So, what and where is God’s kingdom? Jesus talks about it being here, now. “The kingdom of heaven is in the midst of you!” There’s a dimension to God’s reign that we experience and live in now, plus a bigger dimension that is “not yet”, that we pray for and look forward to.
3. The Parable of the Mustard Seed has some humor and exaggeration built into it: A mustard seed is small (not actually the ‘smallest’ of all seeds), and it grows very well (but not actually into the largest of shrubs). And farmers in Jesus’ day did not likely plant mustard. It just grew, and while it had some uses, it was mostly thought of as a weed!
4. Compared to the image in Ezekiel 37 of God planting/establishing Israel like a mighty cedar tree on the highest mountain, this image of a mustard plant/bush, is much less impressive. Really? Compare the reign of God to a weedy shrub? Well, the genius of that might be that the kingdom of God really is able to take root and grow most anywhere! And, plenty of people would not be impressed by it. But still, it offers life, shelter, protection for those who are willing to be part of it!
5. This parable might help us see that the kingdom of God is not some pipe dream; and not in some other place (like heaven) where we hope to escape all the sorrows or pitfalls of this life. God’s reign unfolds where people open hearts and minds and hands to Jesus, and to neighbors, and to the love that we believe will win in the end! The kingdom comes, Martin Luther writes: When our Heavenly Father gives us the Holy Spirit, so that by God’s grace, we believe God’s holy word, and live a godly life on earth now, and in heaven forever.