The Parable of the Mustard Seed Part 1

  • Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” (Matthew chapter 13, verses 31-32)

    Listen to the full sermon here

    This story appears in a sequence of stories that are all about the Kingdom of God. The person who wrote the gospel collected these stories together and they are all interlinked. In order they are the Parable of the Sower, the Parable of Wheat and the Weeds, the Parable of the Mustard Seed and the Parable of the Yeast.

    The first three parables are all about seeds and sowing them and the results of sowing those seeds.

    The Parable of the Sower is about the different harvests that come about depending on the ground seeds are sown in. The Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds is about sowing a field and then having it sabotaged and how you get different types of plant growing together as a result – useful plants and plants that are a waste of space.

    In the Parable of the Mustard Seed, just one seed is sown, but it becomes a mighty tree. And it links to the Parable of the Yeast because the Mustard Seed is tiny but produces something big, and in the Parable of the Yeast, only a small amount of yeast is needed to have a big effect.

    So, you can see the common themes, of something small being used and having a great effect.

    The great nineteenth century Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon gave a talk on Parable of the Mustard Seed to Sunday School teachers. He drew out the various points of the parable. That it was a seed. That it’s small and that from small beginnings, mighty things might grow.

    But the point that stuck most with me from what Spurgeon said was that the man in the parable took the mustard seed and planted it in his field. Some versions of the Bible say he planted it in his garden. And Spurgeon asks the question – what is your garden that you are planting in? And he asked a very specific question that I think really applies getting on for 200 years later: Are you one of those people who only know Christians, who only does Christian things? And has nowhere to plant a seed?

    Growing up I had this idea that church things and Christian things were the most important things. Sometimes people who tell me quite proudly that they only listen to Christian music or read Christian novels. I know people who prefer to go on Christian holidays and like going to Christian camps.

    So this is the first challenge of this parable: where are you going to plant a mustard seed of the Kingdom if you don’t have a field?

    In other versions of the Bible it talks about taking a mustard seed and planting it in your garden. That’s an even better way of thinking about it. Where is your space; your little patch? It might not be as big as a huge field, but it’s still a place where you can plant. A garden is close by. Usually it’s right outside your door.

    One of the things I’ve noticed is that Christians very often have an artificial divide between people who work in the church and people who don’t. And the general tendency is that we think people who work full-time in the church are ‘better Christians’. They’re not like us with our jobs in cinemas or call centres or offices or shops – they are somehow better, more spiritual, because they do Christian work.

    And Christian work is important and highly valuable. I worked, myself, for a Christian charity for six years. And if I had one comment about full-time Christian work that is relevant to this parable and to what Spurgeon said, it would be this:

    I have seen how difficult it is for people who work full-time in the Christian environment to just meet people who aren’t Christians, let alone develop meaningful friendships with them. It takes a concerted effort.

    At the moment I work on a floor of about 50 people and I’m one of only three Christians in there. That’s a big field to plant seeds of the Kingdom in and I really didn’t even have to go looking for a field because I’m living in it five days a week. It is right there.

    So, if you’re like me and you don’t work in the church, then you have a field, or garden, or window box, or whatever.

    And this goes for people who are retired and who are active in the community, and for people who have decided to concentrate on raising kids and end up going to nursery and are part of the community at the school gates, and people who aren’t working at the moment but will still have some garden close by that they can sow in. Some garden that only they can sow in.

    So, what are we doing to grow the Kingdom in our patch? What are we doing to sow the Kingdom in our patch?

    Read next: The Parable of the Mustard Seed Part 2

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