“Jesus told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.'” (Matthew 13:31-32)
The mustard seed was definitely of small size. Because it was the smallest seed that Jews at the time would regularly plant in their gardens, it was often used in local proverbs, or in parables like this, to represent something which was incredibly small.
The tiny mustard seed can grow into a tree that could become 10-12 feet tall. Okay, this is not a giant redwood or something, but it does point to the reality that something that starts small can grow to become much bigger than one would think.
Based on Jesus’ next, and parallel, parable, the emphasis of the imagery here is external growth. Although the mustard seed is small to the human eye, its growth is visible and moves forward externally beyond expectation.
Near the end of verse 32, Jesus says: “when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”
This is a reference from Ezekiel 17:22-24, which says:
22 “‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will take a shoot from the very top of a cedar and plant it; I will break off a tender sprig from its topmost shoots and plant it on a high and lofty mountain. 23 On the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it; it will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar. Birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches. 24 All the trees of the forest will know that I the Lord bring down the tall tree and make the low tree grow tall. I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish. ‘I the Lord have spoken, and I will do it.’” (Ezekiel 17:22-24)
The point of Ezekiel’s prophecy, which Jesus weaves into this parable, is that, against all expectation, God will reestablish His people after their exile and, even more unexpectedly, then gather people from all the nations into God’s kingdom.
The kingdom of God is like this.
Most parables have one main point or thrust calling people to action, and this is one of those parables where the main point is abundantly clear: the kingdom of God will eventually grow to proportions given its small beginnings.
Because of this, the early group of Jesus’ followers should be encouraged, even when it seems like things are too small to be significant.
For us today, as well, we should take encouragement as Jesus’ followers. Even if the church seems to be in decline, the kingdom of God is not in decline. Even if the message of Christ has been soiled by hypocrisy and syncretized with ideological idols, God’s kingdom is still growing.
Yes, the church may be called out into the wilderness. Yes, we may be in a time of exile and purification. Such things will come and are necessary for God’s people.
Still, God is not done with us or failing in His mission, even if we falter. As we read in 2 Timothy 2:13:
if we are faithless,
he remains faithful,
for he cannot disown himself. (2 Timothy 2:13)
So, be encouraged. Be faithful. Walk with the Lord. Keep our kingdom priorities. The kingdom of God may seem small but it’s influence is great.