My mom was a master gardener, both with flowers and vegetables. Corn, peas, beans, potatoes had their place along with a cornucopia of other vegetables in her plans. She loved flowers too and her rock garden added beauty to our property. We some times helped with the ‘grunt’ work when other duties on the family farm were a little less demanding!
Each winter–and winter’s were snow-filled and storm-packed many times–she would look forward to the seed catalogues coming to our rural mailbox. With her cup of tea, her pen and a deep desire for spring she would pour over the pages and begin her list for another season.
In Mark 4:30-32, Jesus uses another illustration to portray the surprising growth of the kingdom of God. There were no seed catalogues in 1st century Israel, but mustard was a common spice grown and ground up for a multitude of uses. Jesus compares the kingdom to a mustard seed, the smallest seed planted in the ground by the farmers of Israel. The seed which occupied such little space had within it remarkable potential. Let me quote fully the words of our Lord –
“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 seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.”
I’ve been thinking of the huge surprise awaiting those who first tried to grow mustard. Perhaps persuaded by their farming neighbours, they acquired seed, perhaps just a few and decided to plant this crop. “Not too close” the farmers had advised, “you won’t believe how large the plants get.” This is similar to the counsel those who plant trees often receive. The seedlings which can easily be held in the palm of one’s hand may grow to pine trees of massive heights.
The kingdom of God is a remarkable kingdom. In its beginning, during the intersection of Jesus Christ with 1st century Israel, it appeared quite insignificant. John the Baptist, Jesus and His disciples all preached, “The kingdom of God/heaven is at hand.” It is close. It is near. It is in the process of being planted.
Its beginnings were less than ostentatious! A handful of followers gathered in fear after their Master was crucified. One of them, namely Judas, had proven to be ‘a devil’ and the balance had their issues which needed justification and sanctification. The disciples didn’t fully understand the work of Jesus Christ until the Spirit of God persuaded them powerfully on the day of Pentecost.
What does this parable teach us? God works in surprising ways. Using the parable of the soils, we learn that the good news of the kingdom illicits various responses. Many reject the truth they are offered, but those who do receive it find a new harvest happening within their lives. Using this Parable of the Mustard Seed, we learn the potential of expansive growth from various small beginnings. Compare the 120 (Acts 1) gathered in the Upper Room with the multitude who profess to have a relationship today with Jesus Christ and who serve Him in their respective areas of the world.
Let’s pray for the growth of God’s kingdom today. “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Surely, these petitions from the mouth of Jesus belong in our prayers every day, not just at seed catalogue time.