30 And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? 31 It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” 33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. 34 He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.
Jesus concludes this particular teaching session with an illustration once again taken from nature and farming, with which His audience would have been well acquainted. While the mustard seed is quite small, the bushes that grow from this seed can indeed become quite large and provide not only mustard, but shade for man and beast as well as a home for the birds.
There is a Mediterranean Mustard “Tree” called the Black Mustard. It is an invasive plant that will consume a whole countryside in a short time. It grows up to 15 feet but one of its unique characteristics are that these 15 foot plants grow so tightly together, they create an unsurpassable thicket that becomes a home to many species of bird, insect and rodents. It literally becomes its own ecosystem. That plant has now invaded the United States and many are trying to find ways to end its ability to dominate the ecosystem, to little success.
It is likely that the hearers of this parable would have also had a passage from Ezekiel in their minds as they made comparisons between God’s Kingdom and mustard seed.
22Thus says the Lord God: “I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar and will set it out. I will break off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, and I myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain. 23On the mountain height of Israel will I plant it, that it may bear branches and produce fruit and become a noble cedar. And under it will dwell every kind of bird; in the shade of its branches birds of every sort will nest. 24And all the trees of the field shall know that I am the Lord; I bring low the high tree, and make high the low tree, dry up the green tree, and make the dry tree flourish. I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it.”
God’s Kingdom is indeed pervasive and holds amazing influence over the ways of man. Yes, we are in a time of great struggle between believing and unbelieving cultures. But God will always prevail. His Word has not failed even once and while a certain people group may indeed wane in their faith, others take up the name of Christ in even greater determination. The “mustard seed” of the Gospel has invaded the world and it will not go unanswered.