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There's a bird nest in the mustard tree, and it was all made possible because a tiny seed survived the odds and just kept growing.
Another parable Jesus put forth to them, saying: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches." Matthew 13:31-32 NKJV
Unleashing The Power
The little mustard seed. Jesus called it the smallest of all seeds. That was local jargon. To his listeners, it probably was the smallest seed they had ever seen. Yet it illustrates the amazing possibilities of the seemingly insignificant. The kingdom of heaven may start out small, but that's not how it will end up if we unleash its unseen power in our hearts, in our families and in the world.
This is the fourth parable in a row that used the simple seed as an object lesson to teach spiritual truths. That first seed we heard about, called "the word", was in need of good soil in order to produce all of which it was capable. In the second story, there were good and bad seeds growing side by side till season's end when they were separated and received their due. In the third parable, the entire process of planting and reaping was likened to God's kingdom; but someone had to plant the seed before God could bring on the miracle of the harvest.
The planter, the seed and the soil. Simple, ordinary gardening concepts. From them we learn about God's kingdom and our place in it. The seed's productivity depends on the soil--that's you and me. Also we must be willing to act and plant the seed before God can make it grow. And we are not to be distracted by the weeds of sin and evil, but stay focused on all we can do in cooperation with God. We heard, too, that Jesus expects us to really listen, then go and do what he said. It's not business as usual.
Years ago I knew an avid (that's an understatement) gardener named Harold Heller who lived just outside Philadelphia in Bensalem Township. He enjoyed having people come and look at all the amazing plants he had growing in his backyard. It was always a happy experience and I stopped in often to see the ever-changing wonders of his garden landscape. Our conversations could be summed up in few words. He would say, "Look at this!" and I responded with a wide-eyed, "Wow!"
One Memorial Day, Harold gave me some tomato plants he had started from seed. With great anticipation I took them home, planted and watered them and watched them grow. But when I visited Harold again, his tomato plants were more than twice the size of mine. Same plants; different soil and gardener.
When Jesus talked about the wonders of the mustard seed, he may have been standing in a garden like Mr. Heller's. "Look at this," Jesus said, "From this tiny seed we have an herb growing so big it looks like a small tree and the birds nest in the shade of its branches!" Wow! The power of the seed unleashed--in the hands of a passionate, faithful, tried-and-true gardener.
The people in the crowd knew what it was like to feel small. Many of them were struggling to make ends meet. They felt poor, powerless and of minimum value. Listening to this parable they could hold their heads a little higher, glimpse the sky and dream a bit. But Jesus had more in mind for them than mere daydreams.
No one parable says it all. No group of verses is complete in itself. Each of our studies is one small part or aspect of the Gospel message. Jesus included many paradoxes, too: on one hand, this is true; on the other hand that which sounds like an opposite, is also true. Therefore any conclusions we reach in our understanding of Jesus are, at best, only partly accurate. Having said that as my preface, let me venture into a definition of the kingdom of heaven based on the four "seed" parables we have studied.
The kingdom of heaven is that working relationship between God and the likes of you and me, characterized by mutual love and faithfulness, with the goal of bringing God's peace and goodwill on earth as it is in heaven. Jesus proclaimed the possibilities of that kingdom. Right here and now it has come. The kingdom of heaven is like a powerful little seed planted within us. We cannot imagine it's potential. Yet as we are faithful in nurturing the seed, God will make it grow. And grow. And grow. Till some bright day, the birds of the air, or a fellow traveler on the way, will rest in its shade.
God bless the living of your days as the kingdom of heaven grows and grows within you!
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: What is something you own which is very small yet holds great significance for you?
Why do you suppose Jesus used the example of planting seeds in so many of his sermons and parables?
Who are some ordinary people you know who do amazing things for God? Identify specific ways you could unleash the power of God within you. What would your life look like if you were the mustard seed that grew into a spreading, hospitable tree?
Generally speaking, people do not like change. But whatever grows, is constantly changing. Does the kingdom of God also change as it grows? If so, how does it change? How is growth and change evident in your spiritual life? What odds have you survived?
Why do we settle for the same old ruts when we have the option of partnering with Jesus for an adventure of faith with infinite possibilities for growth?
Jesus had 12 disciples; a dozen years later, Christianity had spread in every direction and there were more disciples than you would care to count. How do you explain that remarkable fact?
With all the Christians and great religions in the world, why are we not able to create a climate of peace and goodwill toward all people on earth? What are some things that hinder the growth of God's kingdom? What kind of help does the kingdom of heaven need in order to grow?
If everyone who claims the name of God would grow and spread out like the mustard tree, shouldn't the world be a beautiful and wonderful place to live! Where have we gone wrong?
Name some teachings of Jesus that we obviously do not put into practice. How would life change if people not only heard them but actually started doing what Jesus said?
Imagine yourself in God's garden. What part of the garden would you be in and what would you be doing?