In Matthew and Luke 13, Jesus continues his discussion on the kingdom of heaven. Jesus has used a myriad of illustrations up to this point, but his listeners just don’t seem to quite get it. After all, how do you explain something with which there is no earthly comparison? The Message puts Luke 13:18 this way: “How can I picture God’s kingdom for you? What kind of story can I use?” When Jesus’ audience pictured a kingdom, they thought of power, force, and might! But God’s kingdom stands in complete contrast to these principles. While Satan and the nations of this world run their kingdoms through force, control, and deception, God runs His kingdom by love, freedom, and truth. Notice then, that Jesus doesn’t point their attention to a powerful symbol of nature (or even to a full-grown tree). Instead, He directs their gaze to a tiny, seemingly-insignificant seed.
This is an encouraging realization for us. We shouldn’t be discouraged when we don’t always see the big, dramatic, spectacular faith moments in our lives. God promises to take and work with the small mustard seeds in our life journey. We just need to be willing to offer what little we have, so that He can, over time, nurture and grow the small things into big things for His kingdom.
Now, I always thought I understood the mustard seed story pretty well. But then, as I started studying mustard trees in preparation for this lesson, I learned the surprising fact that the mustard seed that Jesus is most likely talking about isn’t even technically a tree – it’s a shrub. In fact, you can see a picture of this below:
Now, yes, I’ll admit that the mustard plant does grow to be a large shrub. But, honestly… I was somewhat under-awed by the fact that this amazing parable is really about a scraggly-looking overgrown bush. That is, until I ran across this incredibly insightful blog from Student Christian Website! I just love what this kid has to say:
I always thought the point Jesus wanted to make through this parable, was that the Kingdom of God is like a mustard tree because it can grow from something really tiny into something really big. That was until I actually googled ‘mustard tree’ and realised that it’s really called a ‘mustard plant’ because mustard seeds don’t grow into anything bigger than bushes that would struggle to uphold even one bird… I suppose it hadn’t really occurred to me to challenge the Son of God’s horticultural knowledge! …This book that I have been reading, ‘Theological Reflection: Methods’, has been encouraging me to reflect on the strangeness and the impossibility of this parable. Yes, it is amazing how such a small seed, buried underneath soil, can grow into something infinitely bigger than its original size, but how much more amazing for it to grow into a tree when it was only supposed to be a bush! The parable conveys something about the way in which in the Kingdom of God, mysteriously, the impossible becomes possible. (www.movement.org.uk)
Wow. I learned something here. Jesus wanted to point His listeners to something that they were familiar and comfortable with, only to turn their paradigm upside down and say, “But guess what? My kingdom is even more amazing and impossible than that!”
I think the parable of the wheat and the yeast in Luke 13:20-21 also goes hand-in-hand with this story. In this parable, we reflect on the miracle of embedding just a minute amount of material into a gigantic mass of dough, setting it aside, and letting the invisible power perform its work. Like the seed, the yeast works invisibly, patiently, yet steadily. Maybe that’s why Jesus put these two parables together? Also, like the parable of the seed, we realize that the transforming power does not come from the soil or the dough. It is a power that must come from the Holy Spirit alone – and it comes from the inside out!