Summary: The Kingdom of God invades life in almost un-noticed ways, but how far it grows cannot be comprehended.
Stories Jesus Told:
Little is Much When God is In It
Matthew 13: 31-33
“Little things mean a lot.” “Big things come in small packages.” These are both quaint sayings that we have heard all our lives, and they do, in some respects, represent the truth that Jesus was seeking to communicate in these parables. But I rather like the philosophy communicated by the title of an old gospel song that says Little is Much When God is in It. That title captures the essence of what Jesus was trying to say in these two parables concerning the Kingdom of Heaven.
Jesus, the master story-teller, drew his stories from sources familiar to his listeners. In Matthew Chapter 13, Jesus masterfully weaves a collection of stories from everyday life in first century Palestine. There was the story of the seed and the sower, the story of the wheat and tares, and now this story about the mustard seed. Palestine was an agrarian economy. Almost everyone farmed something. It was the way the common person lived. Then Jesus went from the garden to the home, and who would not have known the smell of freshly baked bread wafting its pleasant aroma past the nose. You and I know what it’s like. Don’t you think these hearers would have known, too? Yet he weaves these last two together to communicate a timeless truth about Kingdom living—Little is Much When God is in It!
Simply in the interest of time, I want us to concentrate on the parable of the mustard seed. The mustard plant of Israel is different from the mustard plant we are familiar with today. We go down to the feed and seed store and tell the clerk we want an ounce of mustard seed, and we will get enough seed to plant an abundance of a plant that will come up and make a rather large bush. We harvest those leaves, take them home, boil them up and make some pot liquor, fry up some corn bread, and we’re set for a great meal, especially if you’ve got fried pork chops. That’s what we used to call in Jackson Parish “soul food.”
The mustard seed Jesus referred to is very similar to the mustard seed we are familiar with, but more particularly, he was referring to the black mustard. The black mustard grew wild along roadsides and in fields, and was actually a tree rather than the bush we are accustomed to. The black mustard tree would grow to a height of as much as 15 feet. Its seed, much like ours, was used as a condiment and for its oil. And it was not an uncommon sight to see these roadside trees filled with birds, for they, too, loved the seeds produced by the tree. They would shelter in its branches and feast on the bounty of its goodness. Jesus was painting a vivid picture, the scenes of which the crowd would be well familiar.
But they were familiar with more than the scene. They were familiar with the images that lay behind the scene. Likely, as Jesus taught along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, most of his hearers were Jewish. In the Old Testament, one of the most common references to a great kingdom is that of a great tree. They would likely be familiar with the prophet Ezekiel and his words in Ezekiel 31:5-6: