“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed,” Jesus says in Matthew 13. Well, no big news there, especially for those who’ve grown up in church. But Jesus’s live audience probably scratched their heads and may have asked one another, “Did he say ‘mustard seed’?”
Yes, he did. And he also said the plant would grow as big as a tree, which would make it super-mustard, because the mustard plant most common in Palestine is more shrub than tree. Sometimes it grows to heights of about nine feet; but that’s highly unusual. More often, it’s about waist high. As a rule, the shrub isn’t sturdy enough to support nests; yet Jesus says this plant grows strong enough to house birds.
This week’s Gather Bible study focuses on a parable that, in its own telling, urges us to shed conventional thinking. “The kingdom is like a mustard seed,” ordinary and troublesome in many ways (see below). But in this parable, everything about the tiny seed becomes larger than life.
The exaggeration likely takes Jesus’s listeners aback. Nobody in first-century Palestine cultivated mustard because its extraordinary (and exasperating) ability to proliferate made it unmanageable. What’s more, once the mustard took root, it was impossible to get rid of. Planting mustard, as happens in the parable, is not anything a farmer would do, simply because his or her field would be overrun in no time. The grains and vegetables the farmer might be raising for profit very well could be choked out.
Jesus could have put it this way, “The kingdom of heaven is running wild. It will take over every place it’s planted. And it will grow into something bigger and stronger than anyone can imagine!”
That’s just the first layer in this amazingly short story (about 30 words) that has become foundational to our understanding of the Jesus movement. If we are “kingdom seed”—the medium by which the good news takes root and spreads—then we too must envision ourselves as running wild, spreading in places where we might not be welcome, feeling the stress of standing taller and stronger than those around us.
If we are like mustard, we are born to be wild, created to propagate more kingdom seed that spreads even farther afield. That’s why it’s futile to think we can confine God’s reign to one particular way of being or believing. It’s why so many faith communities get in trouble trying to keep the gospel tidy and flowery. By intention, the gospel is a problem! We are weeds and our home is the widest open fields where we can run as wild as we must to spread this spicy seed!
Join us this week as our Kingdom Stories series continues with a close look at the mustard seed parable. There’s much more to it! We meet at Pilgrim Congregational Church, 460 Lake Street, in Oak Park. If you’re unable to join us in person, you can meet us online via Facebook Live.
We need your help!
As we think about the future of Gather, please let us know what gifts you bring and would like to share with the community. There are many roles that have to come together to make Gather happen every week. This includes setup, technical support, worship, managing handouts and information, coordinating drinks, and teardown. We need your help. Please let us know what type of service you’d be interested in!
Watch God Work,
Tim & Shea
As we prepare to become a vibrant worshipping community, we invite you to enjoy a Spotify playlist that captures the kind of worship we hope to embrace. Give it a spin while you’re driving. Make it your workout jam. Add it to your devotional time. Most of all, feel yourself becoming part of a sacred village of believers who love their God and one another!
Check out the Gather Worship Playlist here.