Parable of the Mustard Seed

mustard seed 1

Q. In Mt 13:18-19, why is the kingdom of heaven like a mustard seed? What has heaven got to do with mustard?

A. The term “mustard seed” appears 5 times in the Bible:

Mt 13:31 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field.”
• Mt 17:20 He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
• Mk 4:31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth.
• Lk 13:19 It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches.
• Lk 17:6 He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.

The mustard is the smallest of all seeds commercially cultivated in Palestine, yet can grow to be a big shrub like a tree. The Lord compares our faith’s growth to a mustard seed. The imagery comes from Dan 4:10-12
• These are the visions I saw while lying in bed: I looked, and there before me stood a tree in the middle of the land. Its height was enormous. The tree grew large and strong and its top touched the sky; it was visible to the ends of the earth. Its leaves were beautiful, its fruit abundant, and on it was food for all. Under it the wild animals found shelter, and the birds lived in its branches; from it every creature was fed.
In that vision Nebuchadnezzar was the tree, whose dominion extended to distant parts of the earth, and the nations found shelter in his kingdom.

The Lord used this as a symbol of the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom has a humble beginning, starting with a dozen disciples. However, it grew and grew until nations find shelter in its branches. Yet there is a negative element in the symbol. Birds represent evil in the Lord’s parables:
Mt 4:4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.
• Mt 4:19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path.

So while positively the mustard seed represents faith that grew, negatively the mustard tree can become so big that it shelters evil. You can observe that today. Evil can be perpetrated under the name of Christianity. Though “birds” hiding under a Christian guise are not believers at all, yet the world sees them as Christians and give Christianity a bad name. The parable is in fact prophetic as well as symbolic.

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