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Reading the Parables: The Mustard Seed
I am having a great time with this series of learning how to read the Bible. A good place to start with this series is in my hub on narratives but if you are reading this hub because you are interested in parables, maybe you should check out my hub on generalities with parables before you start here.
In an attempt to keep this hub to the point, I would like to say that the background information about this parable is the same as the parable of the sower. Jesus spoke a few parables here back-to-back-to-back so if you understand the context for one, you understand the context for all. The context is the most important factor in correctly interpreting scripture so I would also encourage you to read the background information on this parable in my hub on the parable of the sower.
The parable of the mustard seed is very similar to the parable of the leaven so they will be discussed together. To keep things short here please read the passage on your own in Matthew 13:31-33. Again, Jesus clues us into what He is talking about with these parables: He is talking about the "Kingdom of Heaven." Remember that He has just had a showdown about the kingdom. Some believe, some don't, some believe now but won't much longer...and then there are others still who will bear fruit. Jesus is speaking to them to encourage them with these parables.
Jesus in the the mustard seed parable compares the promised kingdom to a mustard seed. A mustard seed is small. They are only 1-2 mm in diameter. This is Jesus alluding to what kind of beginning the kingdom will have. It's going to start out small. This allusion is the same in the next parable of the leaven. Leaven may be smaller than a mustard seed. Neither are very significant things. In the same way the start of the kingdom will seem insignificant.
This could be discouraging if you were expecting a full blown kingdom in the next couple months (which the disciples were). They were RIGHTLY expecting a big deal. God had promised it would be a big deal. It is reasonable to assume that God means what He says. If you are the disciples waiting for the kingdom, which you are expecting to be huge, and it's so small it's rather insignificant, well that's disappointing. In fact, that is disheartening.
Although the Kingdom will get a slow start, Jesus assures them it will be all they thought in due time. The mustard seed will grow into a tree so big that birds can nest in the branches. The leaven was hid in some flour, and that will begin to do what leaven does and rise. Although the start seems insignificant, the culmination is anything but insignificant. It will be extraordinary. Therefore this is an exhortation for patience. God will do what He said He will do.
I recommend this book on parables because Dr. Pentecost understands the necessity of the contextual interpretations of the parables. He is very careful to unwrap these while staying true to the Biblical text.