Mustard Seed: Parable With Many Meanings
Faith of a Mustard Seed
In a moment of need and desperation, through trials and struggles, whenever will or motivation was lost, people turned to the Bible for inspiration and for guidance. In terms of the millennials, the Bible is somehow a book that provides free therapy for the burdened souls. God is sort of your invisible psychiatrist who listens to your problems by talking to Him through prayers and answers back through texts in the Bible. Although this is not widely accepted by all people as some strictly adhere to the truth of the Bible and not as some reply to people, it has indeed given relief and refuge to those who sought it as such.
What is a Parable?
A parable is based upon the teachings of Christ in the Bible. The New Testament records show how Jesus used parables — defined in simplicity as stories that teach morals or lessons and in complexity, stories with concealed truths understood only by those who seek to understand it — as his way of teaching. This preaching device has been then passed on from the days of Jesus to today as a way of driving straightforward lessons into “digestible content” presented in good Christian conduct.
Over the years, although the parable has retained its didactic characteristic as it’s preserved to the teachings of the Bible, has quite evolved in meaning and use. In the 19th century, a Danish philosopher named Soren Kierkegaard used this style in treaties regarding Christian faith and action. From there, it has developed into new forms of literature resting on the enigmatic approach of parables. Two of the most notable literary writers who have used this were Franz Kafka known for his parables between man and God and the French “absurdist” philosopher Albert Camus.
Parable of the Mustard Seed
The parable of the mustard seed tells the story of the Kingdom of God likened as a seed starting from a small beginning, sown and has grown larger than all the other plants and became a full tree with large branches. Its narratives are found in three texts in the Bible.
First, it appears in Matthew, the first book of the New Testament, chapter 13, verses 31 to 32.
The Mustard Seed and the Leaven
31 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. 32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”
Then again in Mark 4:30-32 which says,
The Parable of the Mustard Seed
30 And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? 31 It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
And lastly in the book of Luke, Chapter 13:18-19.
The Mustard Seed and the Leaven
18 He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? 19 It is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and
it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.”
Overview of Matthew 13: Understanding the context of the Parables
Although the narrative of the parable appears in three different books of the New Testament, it is mainly taught using the book of Matthew. Simple as it may be, it is essential to understand the whole context or the overview of Matthew 13 to see the flow of thought and ultimately the message of this chapter.
This chapter of Matthew consists of eight parables but some translations put it into seven where the last two parables are combined. There are a few commentaries pointing out that the eighth and last parable has its own merit and should stand alone. According to sources, Jesus told the story of the first four parables to a mixed multitude while the remaining four were told to the Apostles in private.
The first four is themed with the outward characteristics of the Church and these can be divided into two pairs:
First, The Parable of the Sower and the Tares and second, The Parable of the Mustard Seed and and Leaven which represent the relationship of the Church in contact with the people and its dynamic growth and progress against and despite all odds and adversaries.
The remaining four deal with the Church’s inner characteristics and can also be divided into two pairs as well.
The Parable of the Treasure and the Pearl which talk about the preciousness of Christians and the Church to Christ. And the last pair about the Parable of the Dragnet and the Householder wherein the former tell that the good and evil will be separated in the judgement and the latter about the true ministers feeding faith to a household from a rich storage of spiritual treasures.
Breaking down the elements: Interpretation of the Parable of the Mustard Seed
First is the use of mustard seed. Exploring and connecting a bit of science into this, mustard seeds are known to be small round seeds measuring about one to two millimeters in diameter. Although mustard seeds do not exactly grow as trees as they are categorized as shrubs, they can reach nine to ten feet in height! Once these seeds are planted, it grows naturally and is impossible to be free of it. In addition, mustard seeds are said to grow well in most soil but just like any other plant, a well-prepared soil.
Mustard seed in the context of the Bible is the kingdom of God likened to the size of the seed in the beginning, proverbially small, which then grows into a tree with full branches, just like how the kingdom of God has spread all over the world through the Gospel (Bible) and influenced the lives of a great number of people.
It also talks about the sower who represents Jesus, the planter of the seeds and the root of the tree — the very foundation of which the Church, the kingdom of God, stands. The rich soil is the Gospel that nourishes these seeds eventually getting them to grow.
Then there is the element of nesting birds which have two conflicting ideas. Some perceive this in a positive way representing the Gentiles taking refuge in Israel or generally sinners (tax collectors at that time) who have come to acknowledge the Gospel and seeking refuge in the kingdom of God. Some argue that the nesting birds are not sinners rather the birds represent false teachers or prophets invading the kingdom of God. On the other hand, the tree is also known as an Old Testament symbol signifying a mighty kingdom that provided shelter to the nations.
There are slight differences in how this parable is interpreted but as a whole, it paints a simple picture of a small beginning developing and growing into something big and fruitful.
What does it mean to have a faith of a mustard seed?
This is mentioned in the book of Matthew 17:20 which says, “20 He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” Additionally, this is also found in Luke 17:6: “6 And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”
To have a faith like a mustard seed simply means that when there is tiny bit of faith, like a mustard seed and the kingdom of God, put in a little more trust to plant that faith and sow it — water it like reading the Bible, exercising it — so that it will grow into immense proportions and you will wonder how but you will have the faith big enough to move the mountains!
Say it, believe it: “It all adds up.”
One lesson that can be drawn from the mustard seed is that, ultimately, “It all adds up.” You may think that you are only giving a bit or doing a little thing or maybe taking a little step but everything starts from small beginnings. And when all small beginnings add up it will turn out great and beautiful.
On a personal level, it’s important to acknowledge the small steps that you try to do in a direction that will ultimately lead you to your goal. It may only be one or two small steps in a day or maybe a week or who knows how long it took, the important thing is that it’s still a step towards the goal and it counts for something.
As they say, the beginning is always the hardest just like how getting up in the morning and fixing your bed is already an achievement. It’s always hard to get yourself out of the bed that comforts you, right? Have faith in yourself that you will be able to reach that ribbon and win your own marathon regardless of the pace. Sometimes the mountain that needs to be moved is not an external one rather an internal one that always tells you that you can’t do it.
Learn a new thing. Take the small steps to better yourself and just like a mustard seed growing into a nine feet high plant or a flower in its season, you will find yourself blooming in no time. The start and the process may be daunting and exhausting but the destination is rewarding.
It is never easy but take that step. Have faith. Remember that it all adds up.
On a community level, this still holds true. If you’re a millennial reading this, I am ninety-percent sure that you have a Twitter or Facebook account and you are aware of this culture of sharing to garner support, be it financially, advertising, raising awareness.
How does the mustard seed relate to this? You see in this age and the situation that the world is facing right now with the COVID-19 pandemic claiming lives, killing livelihoods, putting people in debt, leaving people hungry and struggling, one small act of kindness can go a long way.
For example, for an artist commissioning their art or a person who just lost a job and trying to make ends meet through a small business, a simple click of a button to retweet or share expands their reach.
To you, it might just be one small act of kindness or even not, just something you don’t think is inconsequential enough and wouldn’t hurt to do, but little did you know that you helped them introduce their product or art to a whole new circle of people. It may not have brought money into their wallets but it has bought them a wider audience. And that is more than enough.
And when one decides to help out another and inspires others to do the same, it first creates a ripple then grows into waves.
A good old dollar, probably an excess of what you have or a part of all that is you have, may be small (it may not even buy anything decent these days) but for someone who needs help, a dollar can go a long way. And when people come together and put a dollar each, it can buy a hot meal for a hungry family or help extend the life of someone else battling a sickness.
It all adds up.
On a much higher level like the society, how can you practice this small faith creating waves and moving mountains?
In the US, racism is a very heated matter and one of the continuing forms of oppression against the Black People.
Recently, the video of George Floyd saying “I can’t breathe” while a Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, had been seen arresting him and pinning him down on his neck had surfaced and gone viral. It was George Floyd’s last video. He died right there and then.
He couldn’t breathe.
This video has sparked the Black Lives Matter movement to rise again and be louder than ever, returning into the national headlines and gaining further international attention. Through the years, people of color have been enduring racism and this movement which started in 2013 is a call for the stop of police brutality and all racially motivated acts of violence against the Black people. The call was loud but it wasn’t heard and for years this was what happened.
Why? Because the people rallying over the cause were people of color. But it grew increasingly popular in 2019 until today and an estimated 26 million people, across all racial and ethnic groups, have gathered to support the movement in 2020. It has been recorded as the largest movement in US History
And in one of the many viral videos of the movement protests, it was seen how one White stood up for a Black — a person of privilege protecting a man that should be his equal but instead was oppressed — created a wave. One by one, a White came out front as a shield for a Black protester.
One stood up and the rest followed. It all adds up.
This act did not just inspire one moment. It inspired many more and this had been seen happening all over the movement. It was breathtaking to witness.
Faith is an important part of our lives. It is not limited to a faith that we give the Church or the God we worship. It should also be given to ourselves (the ones we always forget, don’t we?) extended to our community and to a bigger cause in our society. We must plant that small seed of faith in our hearts. Sow it like how you would nurture a plant — prepare a good soil for it, a soil that allows growth, water it everyday, make sure it gets sunlight. Harvest that faith and put it into action.
To you who are all doing this, do not stop right now. Keep on growing. Be the person who inspires to do the same, to help out in one small way, to be the arms that embrace those people who need help. Keep on planting that seed of faith. Encourage another person to take that first difficult step. Create waves and move mountains.
After all, it all adds up