The mustard seed

Etching by Jan Luyken illustrating the parable, from the Bowyer Bible.

 And He said, “How shall we picture the kingdom of God, or by what parable shall we present it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the soil, though it is smaller than all the seeds that are upon the soil,  yet when it is sown, it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and forms large branches; so that the birds of the air can nest under its shade.” With many such parables He was speaking the word to them, so far as they were able to hear it; and He did not speak to them without parable; but He was explaining everything privately to His own disciples. Mark 4:30-34 (NASB)

The Kingdom of God; God’s reign over God’s people in God’s realm. This neat little definition introduces three vague concepts to define one. It is not clear. Neither is this parable. The explanation of the parable is only given privately to the disciples. The context is a series of parables expounding the diverse speed of spread of the Kingdom despite its opposition, hinting at a judgment on those who did not accept Jesus’s authority. Why a mustard seed? Sure it is a small seed, but it grows into a bush, not a tree, not good for nesting, only branches suitable for perching. The phrase “the birds of the air can nest under its shade” alludes to the pagan nations in the old testament. The mustard seed was a common expression for something tiny. The species of plant is debated, but the leading contender is Brassica nigra.1Old Dominion University This black mustard plant is an annual that can grow voraciously given the right conditions, taking over gardens as an invasive species, without the need of human cultivation. Could our Lord be comparing the Kingdom to a weed?

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