One of my favorite parables that Christ taught was about plantings and gardens. Seeming utterly simple, it actually teaches a great truth. It is the story we call ‘The Parable of the Mustard Seed.” We know it well. The kingdom of God is like...
A mustard seed is planted in the garden. It is a tiny seed – the smallest of the small. Seeds, gardens… familiar stuff to the agrarian society where Jesus ministered. When the seed grew it branched out and became the largest plant in the garden. Many stop here and take meaning from the tale with thoughts like ‘small beginnings produce great results.’ But I think Jesus was after more.
What happens to that mustard plant? “It becomes a tree,” the Teacher tells us. Wait a minute! Any self respecting gardener would stop and scratch his head at the thought of a mustard plant turning into a tree. That doesn’t happen. Mustard plants are huge but they stay low to the ground. They branch out, not up. What is this tree business? It surely indicates something unnatural has occurred.
When Jesus taught His first parable he told of a sower spreading seed over four types of ground. You will recall that when seed fell on hard ground, it lay on top where the birds could come and eat it. In the later explanation of the parable, Jesus said that this account served as a key to all the parables. “How will you understand any if you don’t comprehend this one?” he queried. He went on to explain the meaning, not wanting any to remain in darkness. And, in the explaining process he shares that the seed-eating birds are messengers of Satan, looking to destroy.
Back to the Mustard Seed story… it grows into the biggest plant in the garden and then it becomes a tree – so the birds can rest in it’s branches. Oh! Satan’s messengers hiding out in the Kingdom? What went wrong?
Jesus never looked to start a religion. No, He was after hearts. But sometimes, when things spread out, they sprout up, like a tree. When that happens, falsehood and lies can cleverly hide in the branches. It may look natural to have a bird sitting in a tree, but remember the gardener planted a mustard plant. Note that there was no fruit on that tree, just birds. Jesus said you will know a tree by it’s fruit. While the birds seem quite comfortable and natural, they offer nothing to the garden that the wise Farmer had planted.
Big religion was never the idea. Think with me, as to how many have been swallowed up by men and their religious agendas, with egos that match. It was not as the Gardener intended. Religion is man’s attempt to impress God.
Through ceremony or ordinance, man scrambles up trying to reach the unreachable. Somehow along the way, he begins to think he has become religious enough and the desire for God gets exchanged for personal promotion. The truth is simple… God is unattainable – beyond man’s efforts to connect, and so He does the reaching. He stooped low and became known. Our faith is initiated by Heaven itself. That kind of reality keeps one humble and low to the ground like a mustard plant. Branch out, don’t build up. It’s just not natural.