30He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” Mark 4:30-32
Jesus tells parables so that we might grasp something of the meaning of the kingdom of God through earthly examples. This parable says that God’s kingdom comes regardless of our efforts. It can’t be controlled or influenced by us, and can only be received as a gift from God. In this sense, our faith in God is a lot more like falling in love than making a decision. Because kingdom-faith, like love, is something that comes from the outside and grabs hold of you, whether you want it to or not.
Jesus used this mustard seed botany lesson to show the similarity of his mission to build and spread the kingdom of God here on earth. The way the mustard seed grows is how God’s own grassroots of love begin to transform the world. The mustard seed parable says that appearances are deceiving. Great things can have very humble beginnings, like the mustard seed, which is a weed. It grows in the wild from a tiny seed. While other weeds spread quickly, the tiny mustard seed sends out a single root unnoticeably, to probe the ground for food and sprouts continue on for generations. It just keeps on growing slowly getting larger and larger over time.
The Son of God did not come storming out of the clouds surrounded by legions of angels to greet the world’s movers and shakers. He had humble beginnings like a mustard seed. He was a carpenter from a small village, who gathered a following of fishermen and laborers; wives, widows and single women, the poor, the afflicted, sinners, like a tax collector and a prostitute. The religious skeptics of his day saw a band of losers led by an imposter, but those who were desperate for a loving God were beginning to understand that they were on the ground floor of God’s building of a kingdom. They had nothing but the Word, but they related to what Jesus told them, and they understood his parables:…the kingdom of God …is like a mustard seed.
In Christ, every one of us has the growth potential of a mustard seed. God wants and expects us to grow in his love. But in order to grow we must work at it every day, keeping our minds and hearts fixed on Jesus, and seeking God’s will in all things. Our sinful lives seem to be a slow sequence of two steps forward, and one step back, but like the mustard seed we have a tendency to keep growing slowly but surely, despite our sinful self-seeking setbacks. What gives us this tendency is the certainty that we are God’s own seed. He knows us and loves us even in our sins, and he is with us in all seasons of our lives. His mercy continues to flow over us, keeping us alive in all our life situations. God’s love is transforming us, so we can help transform others. God does not measure our growth by how many points we can put on a heavenly scoreboard. God measures our growth in love. If we live to return God’s love, and share it with others, he brings forth our growth and the magnitude of God’s blooming in God’s everlasting garden, where we can provide a nesting place and a shade for others.
Are we totally committed to loving God and neighbor without putting limits to who our neighbor is?
Do we make our every encounter an opportunity to witness his love?
Are we guided by his word in all our interactions with others?
Do we live in an ongoing dialog of prayer… speaking and listening to God’s divine presence in our lives?