by Lois Tverberg
“What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air perched in its branches.” Luke 13:18-19
The parable of the mustard seed is difficult to understand. What was Jesus’ point, and why did he tell it? What was it saying about God’s redemption through Jesus?
We can get a clue from seeing that it is told along side another parable – the parable of the yeast that works its way through the whole loaf of bread. Often Jesus told parables in pairs, and both stories would have the same main point. So, by comparing parables, we can see their common, important themes.
Both parables emphasize the hiddenness or invisibility at first, but then the powerful effect later on. They are both an answer to the question that Jesus was asked at one point by the Pharisees:
Luke 17:20 Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, `Here it is,’ or `There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.”
Those who questioned him were waiting for God to break into history to destroy all the wicked in one large battle, and they assumed that the Messiah would lead the war. In essence they are asking, “If you are the king, where is the battle? Why aren’t you out shedding blood? Where is your glory?”
Jesus answers with this parable to tell them that he is a different kind of king than they expected. Instead of coming now to destroy the wicked, he has come to begin a kingdom by his own death and atonement. He has come to show mercy toward any who would allow him to be their King and Lord. This kingdom would consist of those who would let God’s reign be established over their hearts, one at a time.
God’s power, manifested in a believer’s life, is invisible at first, but has a powerful effect as it grows deeper in their lives. And, the group of people among whom God’s reign has been established, moves outward in h his power to expand his redemptive reign. In the end, God’s kingdom is like the tree in Ezekiel 31:6, that is a mighty, powerful, and unstoppable. Then, Jesus’ reign will be fully established, and he will be the seen as the glorious king that His people had been waiting for all along.
Photo: Quinn Dombrowski