31 He told another parable to them: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and planted in his field. 32 It’s the smallest of all seeds. But when it’s grown, it’s the largest of all vegetable plants. It becomes a tree so that the birds in the sky come and nest in its branches.”
In rabbinic writings from Jesus' day, the mustard seed was proverbial for being one of the smallest objects. Jesus' description of the grown plant may have been a bit hyperbolic—depending on the variety, mustard plants generally grew from 2-6 feet tall. There was a reason for it, though. “The language…evokes the image of a great kingdom of old that would be supplanted by God’s kingdom (Daniel 4:12). The glorious future kingdom was already active in a hidden way in Jesus’ ministry.”*
Lord Jesus, when I see all that’s wrong in our world, give me patience. But sustain my faith in the ultimate triumph of your kingdom, however slow its growth sometimes looks to me. Amen.
* HarperCollins Christian Publishing. NIV, Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, eBook: Bringing to Life the Ancient World of Scripture (Kindle Locations 219928-219930). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
When I was a little girl, mustard seeds were very common “prizes” in Sunday School. I think we got them for memorizing all our Bible verses. The girls got little marble-sized charms with a tiny seed trapped in the plastic ball. I think the boys got similar little seeds in a tiny flat plastic disk the size of a nickel that they were supposed to carry in their pockets. The idea was to reflect upon the fact that, with faith no bigger than that mustard seed, we could do great things in God’s name.
Reading today’s scripture, I’m not sure those permanently encapsulated, forever sterile little seeds illustrated what Jesus is trying to communicate. Those seeds were never going to grow giant plants. The birds in the sky were not going to find their homes in anything that grew from those little tiny seeds, hiding in plastic. They were symbolic, but pretty much useless for growing.
Sometimes I think I let my own faith become wrapped in safety - beautiful words, comfortable prayers, and my own self-interest - until it becomes just like those little mustard seed charms. Nice to look at, fits in the pocket or on the chain around my neck, safe and secure. There’s no danger of a big out-of-control plant suddenly springing up and inviting birds to come and nest. In fact, there’s no danger at all. My faith, like that little seed, can be safely wrapped and never challenged, never stretched, and never exploded into anything that actually looks like the Kingdom of Heaven. I won’t have to feed it or water it or worry about where it might pop up next.
I don’t want to be a safe Christian. I don’t want to wrap my faith in plastic so that I can take it out and look at it when I need to feel inspired. I want to plant it and watch it grow, even though that’s more than a little bit scary, and I have to be open to whatever giant plant God wants it to be.
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