Archive for July 29th, 2008


Two-fer Tuesday: Extra Mustard by Miz Pink

So, I’m taking over this Tuesday and I’m picking the topic this time: Mustard Seeds.

I have to give credit where its due…to the pastor who preached this past Sunday on Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 13, verses 31-33 and verses 44-49. What I’m really interested in today is this part of that Bible study:

31 He presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; 32 and this is smaller than all other seeds, but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that THE BIRDS OF THE AIR come and NEST IN ITS BRANCHES.”

To a lesser extent, I’m also going to talk about this one, even though it doesn’t have mustard as a condiment:

33 He spoke another parable to them, “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened.”

The pastor made an interesting point about the mustard seed, in that it doesn’t really produce a tree. I found some references to an actual “mustard tree” of some sort with some quick Googling, but mostly I think Jesus was talking about the herb, and various translations Jesus is quoted as saying something more along the lines of “herb” or “shrub” instead of “garden plants” which reinforces this.

I’m not going to fault Jesus for any confusion here. First, parables, much like metaphorical points we make in discussion and arguments, aren’t always precise, ya know? We use exageration and we gloss over inconvenient details because the point is to…well…make a point. Also, he may have been intentionally mixing the idea of the herb and the tree, even if they comes from very different seeds. Jesus was a deep and complex guy so who knows how many levels there are to this parable?

Anyway, the point the pastor made was that the mustard shrub is very much a weed, really. It is invasive and most people wouldn’t want mustard seeds sprouting in their gardens for fear that the mustard shrubs might choke out the desired plants.

And he made the point that Jesus did this on purpose to turn people’s expectations on their head and make them look at the world in a revolutionary way. He was telling his listeners that the kingdom of God was going to spread like a weed. And that in growing and spreading there would also be some chaos and some discomfort. And he didn’t compare the kingdom of heaven to something grand, like the cedars of Lebanon, but to something lowly instead which reminds me of how God make wisdom from foolish things and produces strength from supposedly weak people.

The leaven parable, he noted, was also something that used imagery that Jesus’s audience might not have found comfortable. Think of how in one of the most holy days of the Jews, Passover, the focus is on unleavened bread. And in general, many breads of the region in those days were unleavened. To some extent, yeast/leaven wasn’t a good thing. So for Jesus to use it as an example to describe the kingdom of God might, again, be a way to shake people up.

We like to see Jesus as some placid guy who was really sweet. We forget that he overturned the tables of the money changers in the temple and whipped them out with a length of rope. We forget that he cursed a fig bush for not having fruit on it. We forget that he could be sharp, short and even sarcastic with people.

Jesus was all about love but he also had a bit of mischief in him. He knew how to shake things up. We need to remember that about him and about the new convenant. It isn’t about peace and quiet.

It’s about turning things on their heads sometimes.

(Click here for Deke’s post on today’s topic)


Two-fer Tuesday: Extra Mustard by Deacon Blue

So, I let Miz Pink pick the topic this Tuesday, and it’s my fault that I’m posting our Two-fer Tuesday stuff almost at the end of the day, mere minutes from midnight, meaning it’s almost Wednesday. Partly my day has been busy; partly I wanted to see what Miz Pink would say about her passages from Matthew before I spouted off on another mustard seed parable, the one with which probably more people are familiar:

“Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, ‘Why could we not cast it out?’ He said to them, ‘Because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew chapter 17, verses 19-20

Or this one from the Gospel of Luke:

“The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ The Lord replied. ‘If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.'” Luke chapter 17, verses 5-6

I’ve always believed mostly, and made my points about these passages, based on the idea that what Jesus was saying that we don’t really need much faith to do big things, but that even so, most of us are so rooted in the real world and our daily troubles and doubts that we cannot even muster up a mustard seed’s size worth of faith.

I still do believe that is part of what he meant, but I also now believe, after taking much of the day to digest Miz Pink’s post after she sent it to me, that there are other layers as well. Two of them, at least.

First, something I read here, which says that the mustard seed is “probably the most tightly packed seed of all. There is no place for air inside it. Later we shall see that air is the dominion of the devil. As a result it can withstand high pressures and high temperatures. Your faith may not be an all encompassing faith, that fills the totality of your personality, being and activity. Initially it is restricted to only a certain section of your being or personality or activity.”

Now, I’m not sure if Jesus really knew horticulture all that well. I know he is the only begotten son of God, and had access to all sorts of knowledge, but I’m not so sure he was pulling on such complex knowledge of the seed and expecting anyone to get that reference. But still, it’s an interesting point, so I thought I’d share it, and I think it is reasonable to think that Jesus might have hid something just this complex, deep and mostly incomprehensible to his audience in there for future generations to discover.

The second extra layer of this mustard seed parable is this: I don’t think it’s all about the size, but about where you go with your faith. Thinking of the fact that Miz Pink points out the mustard plant’s weed-like nature, and the fact that weeds grow like, ummm, weeds—I think that perhaps one of the bigger things Jesus might have been getting at in this parable is the potential for growth.

That is, the mustard seed starts small, but can grow much more abundantly and ambitiously than you might think such a small thing would be capable of doing. So, having faith the size of a mustard seed is to have a faith that might be small now, but has the potential and likelihood to grow much more. To grow to the point that you could make a mountain move with but a word from your mouth. But most of us don’t have the fortitude to generate that kind of growth. Most of us are seeds that produce, at most, a small flower or a blade of grass.

In any case, I have yet to produce the mustard-sized faith that Jesus talks about. Instead, I’m stuck with ketchup and relish, but as with all things, I will forge ahead with what I have and not be all “woe is me” about what I don’t have. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll find that mustard seed in me one day.

Deacon Blue is the blogging persona of editor and writer Jeffrey Bouley. The opinions of Jeff himself on this blog, and those expressed as Deacon Blue, in NO WAY should be construed as the opinions of anyone with whom he has worked, currently works, or will work with in the future. They are personal opinions and views, and are sometimes, frankly, expressed in more outrageous terms than I truly feel most days.

Jeff Bouley


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