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Parable of the Mustard Seed

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Teachings of Jesus 5 of 40. parable of the mustard seed. Jan Luyken etching. Bowyer Bible

Jan Luyken etching, the Bowyer Bible.

There are Christian and Buddhist parables called "The Mustard Seed." See the article on Kisa Gotami, a main character in the parable, and Buddhist texts for more information on Buddhist scripture.

In Christianity, Parable of the Mustard Seed is a parable that according to the Gospels of Luke (Luke 13:18–19), Mark (Mark 4:30–32), Matthew (Matthew 13:31–32), and the non-canonical Thomas (Thomas 20) was told by Jesus. Possible Hebrew Bible parallels are Daniel 4:10–12, 4:20–22 and Ezekiel 17:22–23, 31:1–9.

Then said he, Unto what is the kingdom of God like? and whereunto shall I resemble it?
It is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and cast into his garden; and it grew, and waxed a great tree; and the fowls of the air lodged in the branches of it.

Luke 13:18–9

And he said, Whereunto shall we liken the kingdom of God? or with what comparison shall we compare it?
It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown in the earth, is less than all the seeds that be in the earth:
But when it is sown, it groweth up, and becometh greater than all herbs, and shooteth out great branches; so that the fowls of the air may lodge under the shadow of it.

Mark 4:30–2

Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field:
Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.

Matthew 13:31–2

The disciples said to Jesus, "Tell us what Heaven's kingdom is like." He said to them, "It's like a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds, but when it falls on prepared soil, it produces a large plant and becomes a shelter for birds of the sky."

Thomas 20

Jesus also mentioned that the mustard seed again in Luke 17:6

The parable compares the Kingdom of Heaven to a mustard seed, which the parable says is the least among seed, yet grows to become a huge mustard plant that provides shelter for many birds.

The Complete Gospels notes for Matthew 13:31: "The mustard seed's smallness was proverbial, but it hardly grows up to become a tree." and for Luke 13:19: "Jewish law prohibited the growing of mustard seed in a garden. Mustard is a shrub, not a tree." The Jesus Seminar, which produced the Complete Gospels, rated this saying as one of its 15 red sayings. John Dominic Crossan has proposed that this parable[1], and others, are intentionally provocative. He points out that in Mediterranean climates, such as Galilee, black mustard is a managed weed. The analogy may be that the "Kingdom of God" is ubiquitous, persistently in our presence in the here and now. It also satirizes the aggrandized simile of temporal power as a mighty oak or cedar It would be obvious to state that the Kingdom of God is like the mighty Lebanon cedar which also starts from a small seed, but instead Jesus says it's like the mustard weed. Does that mean the kingdom is something people try to control? Crossan claims this is part of the Historical Jesus' style, rather than taking literal quotes from the Bible and commenting on them, he uses parables to generate discussion about the topics which just happen to be part of the Bible. Crossan also points out that by teaching in parables, right from the start Jesus was open to interpretation, which he wouldn't have been if he merely taught sermons and directly told the people what to think and how to interpret the Bible. Evangelical scholars would dispute Crossan's hermeneutic, seeing it as faulty in that it would in their understanding distort Jesus' intent in using parables. And as Jesus Christ as well as Paul quotes the prophet Isaiah, he speaks parables in order to confuse the listeners and to be a stumbling block amongst those not worthy of receiving the word. Each parable has a specific meaning that is lost to those that are not his flock. This is seen when he gives specific explanations of some parables to his disciples. See also Parables of Jesus.

While often interpreted as being a happy prediction of the growth of the Christian church on earth, some scholars[2] believe that this parable and The Parable of the Leaven, which immediately follows it, are a related pair which predict not just growth but growth with attending corruption, here denoted by the birds. The birds may be seen as an undesirable new presence on the farm, since they would eat up any new seeds the man sows in this field. The birds, then, may be seen to represent false teachers making their home in the church, thus preventing the church from bringing forth much fruit.

The majority of scholars, however, see the parable as referring to the vast discrepancy between the initial size of the kingdom of God (the seed) and the ultimate size (the tree). The quote "the birds nest in the branches" is seen as an allusion to Daniel 4:12 which refers to the vision of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, who saw a large tree with the "birds nesting in the branches." hence, the reference is to the reign of a great king and the nations receiving shade in the protection and oversight of that great king. Jewish expectations of the Kingdom of God revolved around an apocalyptic battle or judgement which would see God (or his Messiah) defeat the enemies of Israel, evict the Romans, and usher in a new age of justice and prosperity under this "great king" (Messiah). Jesus did not completely denounce those expectations with this parable, rather, he alerted the people that this great kingdom of God would not be a sudden thing but would appear in a small way (Jesus and his ministry) and only eventually (over time) grow into a worldwide influence. Thus, "the kingdom of heaven (God) is like" a mustard seed which grows into the tree. The (unexpected) small beginning of the kingdom of God is what is being communicated, in contrast to the common expectation of sudden and worldwide impact.


Some or all of this article is forked from Wikipedia. The original article was at Parable of the Mustard Seed. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

  1. For example, see PBS Frontline: From Jesus to Christ
  2. The King James Study Bible published by Thomas Nelson Publishers

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