Mark 4.30-32

And he said, “With what shall we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it?

“It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet 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.”

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2 responses

  1. This is a weed, you know!The plant doesn’t really get that big; Jesus is alluding to prophetic descriptions of the Kingdom of Israel, with the neighboring nations sheltering under its branches (so they’d hoped.)What this plant will do, given half a chance, is to encroach on a peasant’s field and take it over.Small beginnings, insidious growth, instant universal liberation! Whee! (If only every new outbreak of the Spirit wouldn’t subvert itself instead!)

  2. Many modern scholars have pointed out that no sane farmer in ancient Palestine would have planted mustard seed deliberately, any more than a sane householder in a subdivision would deliberately plant crabgrass. After all, mustard was not just a weed; it was despised, difficult to uproot, and as forrest reminds us, highly prolific.Bernard Brandon Scott, in his book Hear then the Parable: A Commentary on the Parables of Jesus, p. 376, states that the act of planting mustard in a garden was a metaphor for defilement in one of the important Palestinian religious texts of that time, the Kalayim.Leif Vaage, in his book Galilean Upstarts. Jesus’ First Followers According to Q, pp. 63-64, reminds us that the foremost meaning of this teaching of Christ is simply that a person who plants a mustard seed is not judging it by its appearance (which is that of a worthless speck), but by a “knowledge of potentialities”. But Vaage also points out that an element of mockery is clearly present: the reference to mustard “as ‘a tree in whose branches the birds of the air nest’, employing as it does the language of Israel’s epic literature, is simultaneously a parody of the great tradition and of every effort at self-authorization in terms of it….”Each of these points underscores the fact that the likening of the Kingdom to mustard stresses the Kingdom’s status as an outside force of little respectability subverting the ideal Jewish order. Vaage summarizes Christ’s teaching by observing that the Kingdom is like mustard in being “a generally unwelcome but always tenacious plant that, once sown, i.e., taught, not only was extremely difficult to uproot, but promised threateningly to prosper.”

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