In the Children’s Worship and Wonder program, the things for telling the story of a parable are put in gold boxes because the parables are different from other stories. The parables are said to be a gift or a treasure. The parables are not as easily understood as the other teachings and the parables require interpretation work that is not as plain as other work.
Today, we have the parable of the mustard seed. Jesus tells us it is the smallest of all seeds. We, today, know that the mustard seed isn’t all that small compared to other seeds, but the mustard seed was the smallest seed sown in that area of Palestine. So, Jesus’ teaching that the mustard seed was the smallest seed was relevant to those hearing his teaching and we can recognize that the teaching is more about the smallness of the seed than the exactness of the facts.
Jesus tells us that someone takes a mustard seed and plants it in the garden. We can interpret the planter to be God, Jesus, or us depending on how you want to interpret this parable. I think it is most appropriate to say that we are the planters. We are taking a seed and planting it.
For those of you who garden or enjoy plants, we know that planting something in the ground takes a lot of work. We have to choose the right area of the garden so that the plant will get the right amount of sunlight. We have to monitor its water. We have to plant it in good soil, maybe adding some good soil to the soil in our garden. We may need to prune some plants in order for them to bloom again or snip off some growth to allow all the nutrients to go to just a few pieces of fruit.
All of this work is a partnership with God to participate in God’s miracle of bringing forth life. The ancient people believed that when you planted a seed in the ground it was dead and they waited for it to come back to life. We plant a seed with the belief in its potential for life. We rely on God to do His part and we do the job He gave us of tending to His creation. From that work, we have beautiful flowers and good things to eat.
Besides seeds, water, sun and soil, our greatest investment in gardening is hope. When we plant something, we hope that God will bring forth life and we hope in an abundance of beauty or food. We don’t plant something without hope for it to bloom or grow food. Even greater hope is planted when you plant something you know you will never enjoy the abundance.
There is a Greek proverb that says “Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” Whether we’re planting with the hope of a harvest this year or a shade for future generations, planting requires hope.
When we read this parable we think about one seed being planted and one mustard tree being grown, the thing about mustard is it is more like a weed. It’s dangerous if you’re trying to plant a manageable garden. It’s hard to control and it can easily take over your whole garden. Mustard wasn’t often found in a garden in the ancient world; it was more likely found in an open field growing wild.
Christian scholar John Dominic Crossan says: “The point…is not just that the mustard plant starts as a proverbially small seed and grows into a shrub of three or four feet…it is that it tends to take over…, that it tends to get out of control…And that, said Jesus, was what the Kingdom was like, like a shrub with dangerous takeover properties.” (The Historical Jesus, pgs. 278 – 279).
The point Jesus is trying to make is that the Kingdom of God is uncontrollable once you plant the seed. You plant it and God makes it grow. You can give it water and monitor its sunlight, but it is going to grow beyond your ability to try to control it and contain it. The Kingdom of God will come in and take over…if you let it. Jesus invites us to hope in the coming Kingdom by planting seeds and anticipating its growth. (Working Preacher, David Lose, http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1622.
Jesus tells us that not only does the mustard seed become a great plant – it becomes a tree. So, how does a plant become a tree? That’s the part of the parable that we often miss. A plant doesn’t become a tree…without a miracle. To understand that miracle, we have to look back to the prophets Ezekiel and Daniel.
As I read from Ezekiel 17, listed for the word of God about the trees:
22 The LORD God proclaims: I myself will take one of the top branches from the tall cedar. I will pluck a tender shoot from its crown, and I myself will plant it on a very high and lofty mountain. 23 On Israel’s mountainous highlands I will plant it, and it will send out branches and bear fruit. It will grow into a mighty cedar. Birds of every kind will nest in it and find shelter in the shade of its branches. 24 Then all the trees in the countryside will know that I, the LORD, bring down the tall tree and raise up the lowly tree, and make the green tree wither and the dry tree bloom. I, the LORD, have spoken, and I will do it.
Now, listen for the words about trees from Daniel 4 about King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream:
10 In my mind, as I lay in bed, I saw a vision:
At the center of the earth was a towering tree.
11 The tree grew in size and strength;
it was as high as the sky;
it could be seen from every corner of the earth.
12 Its leaves were beautiful, its fruit abundant;
it had enough food for everyone.
Wild animals took shade under it;
birds nested in its branches.
All living things lived off that tree.
In both of these Scriptures, kingdoms are described as trees. In Daniel 4, King Nebuchadnezzar receives a vision from God about a mighty tree that is as high as the sky. In Ezekiel 17, God says the Babylonian kingdom will grow into a mighty cedar. In is the Old Testament tradition, kings that will grow into mighty kingdoms that prosper and provide for many are called trees. These kingdoms or trees grow at the behest of God. They grow beyond imagination for the whole world to revere. They prosper and produce an abundance for those who are dependent on the kingdom.
God’s kingdom, as Jesus describes in the parable of the mustard seed, will grow from a humble little seed into, not just an ordinary weed, it will grow into a mighty cedar tree by the miracle of God’s work. The humble will not produce what it is meant to; the humble will become more than expected. God’s future glory comes from what it small and ordinary. (NIB, p. 308).
We should not lose hope in our present state. The future glory of God is possible to grow like an uncontrollable weed into a mighty tree if we allow ourselves to hope. A humble seed does not become a tree without Divine grace. Whatever it is that we are to become requires us to have hope, plants our seeds, and wait on God’s supernatural work.