Get your Googles ready, everybody, because it is once again time to fill your favorite search engine with image searches of mustard seeds and plants. Every year, I get the question from a farmer in our congregation about what sort of mustard plants Jesus was talking about because in LA (Lower Alabama) they just don’t grow into “the greatest of all shrubs.” As the internet is ever expanding, I found a new image this year, that perhaps will help allay some of Mr. L’s concerns.
What are we to do with this wildly contextualized image for the kingdom of God? It is like a mustard seed, which if Wikipedia is to be believed, is awfully small.
Yet it grows into “the greatest of shrubs” according to Jesus, of the Middle Eastern equivalent of Kudzu, as some scholars have described it. Either way, this tiny seed is a force to be reckoned with. In the genre of parables, it seems that the details are only important insofar as they point you to the underlying meaning. So, whether great bush or annoying weed, the truth that Jesus is sharing is that even when it seems that the influence of the kingdom of God is nearly imperceptibly small, there are big things brewing.
This makes sense, of course, here near the beginning of Mark’s Gospel. Over the course of three years there will be great crowds and utter isolation; there will be cheers of joy and mocking jeers; there will be moments of profound influence and times when it seems as though the whole world is rebelling against Jesus and his message. In the long-run, the kingdom of God will have its influence, will make a difference, will flourish beyond imagination, but in those moments of doubt, we can recall the mustard seed and know that God’s plan is larger than our momentary frustrations.