The Smallest of Seeds

Suzanne Bowles, PhD

3 Pentecost  June 13, 2021  St. Michael’s Church (Zoom)  by Suzanne G. Bowles, Ph.D.

Today we have a parable from Jesus involving a mustard seed.  There are actually two mustard seed in the gospels.  One is where Jesus says “if you have faith the size of a mustard seed you will be able to …” either move a mountain or move a mulberry tree, i.e. something big.  This parable appears in Matthew and Luke.    The other parable which we see today in Mark involves the planting of a mustard seed and it grows to become a large tree.  This parable appears also in Matthew and Luke.

            The stories are different.  One involves planting an actual mustard seed.  The other uses the mustard seed as an analogy for faith.  The key thing that Jesus emphasizes in both these parables is the smallness of the seed.  In fact, we are told that the mustard seed is the smallest seed on earth.  Well, a Google search indicates that it is not the absolutely smallest seed, but it is the smallest that can grow into a tree (as opposed to a flower).  The point is, it’s tiny. And that fits Jesus’s purpose.

            Neither parable about the mustard seed works unless we grasp that the seed is really really tiny.  In the one instance we’re told by Jesus that if we have even the tiniest bit of faith we can do great things – things that other people may deem impossible.  In the other instance we’re told that this tiny seed, when planted, will grow into a tremendous tree or shrub – so large that the birds can make their nests in it.   So it’s not too hard to figure out that Jesus is telling us that great things can come from small beginnings.  But this is Jesus we’re talking about. Not, say, Ben Franklin.  It’s not meant to be an inspiring saying (though in part it is that).  Jesus is trying to tell us something about the Kingdom of God.

We see above all that God is merciful to us in that He will accept whatever small faith we have and use it to achieve His purposes.  The faith itself is a gift from God.  He mercifully understands our human weaknesses and foibles and let’s us start small.  Yes, sure, there are heroes of the faith who do sudden and dramatic things, but most of us start small.  And certainly all of us have times when we’re so beset by problems or weighed down by burdens that small is all we can muster.  The wonderful thing is – God accepts that.  We know we struggle, not just in our daily lives, but in trying to worship Him and follow His way. It’s not easy and we often fall short. That’s why I find these mustard seed verses so encouraging.  He takes what we have to offer and uses it for His purposes.

            Satan is the great accuser and he’s constantly telling us we’re not good enough, we’ve fallen short, how could God possibly use us after we’ve screwed up so many times.  Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians tells us that in Christ we are new creations.  The old has passed away; the new has come, and that comes from the love of Christ.

As we’re coming to grips with the “new normal” or even trying to figure out what that will be, there is uncertainty, anxiety, even fear.  But be encouraged.  Remember the hymn “What a friend we have in Jesus” with the line “Jesus knows our every weakness.”  Step out in faith, even if it’s only a tiny bit.  Jesus will accept it and use it to build His kingdom.  We can sow the mustard seed that will result in a mulberry tree.