Jesus was a masterful communicator. He taught using stories (“parables”) with metaphors from the agricultural life of his audiences. Think of the parables of the sower, the lost sheep, the different soils, the unfruitful fig tree etc. All of these subjects were very familiar to his audiences and relied on images which the people would continue to encounter in their daily lives and would be reminded of His teaching. This was certainly the case with the parable of the mustard seed. Mustard plants flourished, and still flourish, throughout the Middle East. They have a tremendous capacity for growth in that harsh, arid climate.
When asked about the Kingdom of God, Jesus said, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree…’ (Matthew 13:31-32 NRSV). Jesus was (in part) responding to the long-held Jewish expectation that the coming Messiah would be a military leader who would set the Jewish people free from the Romans, establishing an independent, Jewish kingdom – a physical place. In contrast, Jesus’s building of His kingdom got its start not with military might but with a small group of twelve unassuming men from Galilee. Following Christ’s teaching, this little band of men started a movement spanning thousands of years and involving billions of people.
Taken on a personal level, the mustard seed parable cautions us not to assume that the impact of our actions is proportional to the size of those actions. We don’t know what God may be doing, over time, through seemingly small actions. By our daily choices, we are planting seeds which will grow to create a larger impact. In the words of Rev. Jeff Manion, “A legacy of faithfulness is born from small, repeated acts.” On the flip side, we should also notice that small compromises, over time, (just one “white lie”, just this text, just this once, this one rash action etc.) also bear their own fruit and often grow into something we regret once the seeds are planted.
We encounter a lot of small action choices in our days – “mustard seed moments” you could call them – when we choose what we will plant. Those little choices have greater impact than we may ever realize.
Awesome words Sue! I have never thought of the growth we sow from little wrongs or neglect of positive actions. Thank you Sue!