Have you ever heard the saying: “Have faith as of a grain of mustard seed?” and you immediately know what it means? A remarkable thing about the Parable of the Mustard Seed is that both the parable and the seed are pretty small. This parable appears in Matthew, Mark and Luke, but depending on which gospel version you use, it is only 50-75 words that make up the entire parable about the mustard seed; yet the image resonates for people in profound ways. It is such a small yet powerful icon. That is the power of parables and the strength of small things.
Jesus talks a lot about the Kingdom of Heaven and includes a number of metaphors to describe what he means. I imagine Jesus standing before the crowds teaching them and wondering how to describe this idea in a way that would make sense: “Let me see...how to describe this idea. Well, the kingdom of heaven is like...Uh...well, it’s like—like a ...”
* Like a tiny mustard seed…..something that looks very small and insignificant but that holds within it the greatness of what it was created to be.
* Like yeast … leaven that you use every day in your baking. Something that by itself seems to be nothing but quietly in its own time transforms flour, salt and water, resulting not in a dried cracker but into a staple of wonderfully rich and fragrant bread.
* Like a treasure buried in a field…that is an unexpected blessing.
* Like a fine pearl…that is worth selling everything in order to possess it.
* Like a catch from the sea…that encompasses everything and everyone—the good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly.
Drawing from the familiar things of daily life, Jesus offered a menu of ways to think about and describe aspects of God’s Kingdom that people could identify with and remember: A seed, an ingredient, a discovered treasure, a prized possession, a bountiful catch. Ordinary circumstances to grasp the greatness of God. Things that on the surface seem insignificant but when you stop to think about it, they are part of a profound story.
The tiny mustard seed is not the smallest of all seeds, but in the Middle East it was used to talk about something very small. The plant that would grow from that seed became as big as a tree with many branches and birds would nest in it because it provided safety, shelter and food. The kingdom of God is like that Jesus says. Sometimes it is the smallest most insignificant beginning that produces the most significant outcomes.
Sometimes it is the smallest most insignificant beginning that produces the most significant outcomes.
When I served as an Interim Rector at St. Luke’s in Chester, Vermont, I had the opportunity to see an art exhibit at the local Baptist Church. The title of the show was “Picturing the Parables,” and it was part of a traveling art exhibit sponsored by Christians in the Visual Arts and hosted by the Chester Baptist Church.
I was particularly drawn to a very large, vibrant colored fabric wall hanging by artists Shirley Cunningham and Anne Brink. It was a huge tree that had a lot of life to it. I had the impression it was not only filled with life as a plant, but gave life to others, particularly other animals and birds who were sheltering there and finding food in its branches. This was a rendition of the Parable of the Mustard Seed. “Nice.” I thought. “It really captures the image I envision when I think of this parable.”
But what really moved me was something that had to be pointed out to me by the Pastor. Toward the bottom of the work were straggly strands of brown yarn and stringy, frayed pieces of material just dangling loosely in space representing the roots of the plant. They were just limply hanging there—the glory was in the bigger more colorful fabric performance above that showed such life!
But upon closer examination, on one of the longest, grubbiest-looking, insignificant strings was a single crystal bead at the very bottom.
It was the seed that had given birth to all that magnificent bush. The seed was dwarfed by the bush, but it was that point from which the plant had really grown.
I was so busy looking at the ssplendor that I failed to see the formidable small thing that held the power of creation itself: the seed—a seemingly insignificant smidgen hidden deep in the dark that could only reveal its magnificence in God’s time. It whispered a suggestion that applies to all of us: Don’t underestimate small beginnings, especially your own. You just might provide a kernel of courage for something much bigger than you realize. That which might seem to be of little worth might just be that which God takes and uses best.
Don’t underestimate small beginnings, especially your own.
NOTE: Similar stories from Scripture are explored more fully in my newly released book: “The Light Shines Through: Our Stories Are God’s Story” by Church Publishing, Inc. Ordering available now at Hopkins Bookshop (www.hopkinsbookshop.com) or Church Publishing (www.churchpublishing.org/lightshinesthrough )
Feartured photo by Hopeoflight - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.