Matthew 13:31-32

He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” Matthew 13:31-32

As we continue to walk through the parables in Matthew 13 we come to the mustard seed. This is among the shortest and simplest of all of Jesus’ parables yet it is one that always baffles me just a bit. I never know quite what to do with it.

First it trips me up because, where I grew up, mustard seeds weren’t good things. I remember earning money by walking through corn fields, pulling mustard weeds up from their roots and walking them to piles at the end of the rows. They were pesky weeds. Today I suppose farmers just blast their fields with herbicides that take care of the problem. It is still hard for a mustard seed to be good news to me.

Second, there is hyperbole and then there is hyperbole. In the natural world, the mustard seed is not the smallest of all seeds and the plant that it produces does not grow into a large tree. I realize that parables are not meant to be taken literally but I still get tripped up by this.

Obviously, the power of this parable – when I picture it in my mind and ignore my initial reactions – is an argument from the lesser to the greater. It contains a promise that what begins as something small and insignificant will grow to something much greater. And when it does, it will prove a blessing to the world.

There is encouragement in this parable. The kingdom of heaven – a qualitatively different and better way of existence rooted in an obedient relationship with God as Lord of our lives – starts small. God reaches out to us. God plants a small seed of faith in our lives. Over time that faith can grow and grow until it makes a significant difference in our lives and we, therefore, are able to make a significant difference in the world where we are planted. That is encouraging. It is promising. Especially when we face moments of doubt, despair, or discouragement.

I’m thinking this morning that it might work the other way as well. “A little dab’ll do ya” sold lots of Brylcreem but, in plenty of areas of our lives, “a little dab’ll kill ya.” The alcoholic stays away from that first drink because he knows where it will take him. An investor shies away from a promise that looks too good to be true. A parent pays close attention to how computers are used in their homes. The EPA regulates chemicals because of their potential to cause great harm. Small seeds of bad things hold the potential to become large trees of bad things. We do well to remember that.

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, we know you are present in the little things of life. We sense that the seeds of faith which you continue to plant within us will grow, even without our awareness, sometimes despite us. When we are discouraged today, remind us again of this story, this image of growth, that we might take the longer view, we might see the bigger picture, and we might be strengthened by the good news that you are not yet through with us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.


One Response to “Matthew 13:31-32”

  1. Melanie Says:

    The mustard seed parable is one of my favorites, but I have to admit, I never looked at it from the perspective of having to pull those pesky weeds from a corn field. And yet, I can see how even that image, when looked at in a different way, can give us a taste of the Kingdom. Isn’t God persistent and always there for us whether we want God to be growing in our field or not? He is always there. Despite our efforts to “weed” God out of our lives, he is persistent. And sometimes the smallest of things will bring on the realization that we need and want God in our lives.
    Thank you for your devotions. I look forward to them every morning!

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