It's About Potential
Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.” – Mark 4:30-32
Just the other day, my mom and I took a bit of a road trip to visit my Uncle Mark. While we certainly were glad he was open to having guests again after avoiding people due to COVID-19 concerns, we were also on a bit of a mission. You see, my uncle lives on my mom’s family farm where there is a rhubarb patch that needed to be harvested.
So we picked up some dinner on the way there, shared a long overdue meal with someone we had been missing much this past year, and then I prepared to head out to the patch. With scissors and bags in hand, and having sprayed myself with some Deep Woods OFF to avoid what would have been countless bug bites, I ventured out to see how much was still good to be cut. While I did find a good amount of rhubarb ready to cut and freeze, what really amazed me was the size of the plants, especially the leaves.
This wasn’t the first time I had harvested rhubarb. But it was the first time I can remember encountering leaves which were easily twice the size of my head! They were easily the biggest ones I have ever come across. The weather had been perfect for this particular patch to grow big and fast this year producing long, slim stalks and the huge leaves.
When you stop and think about, the process of plants growing from seeds is rather incredible. Seeds of all shapes and sizes have the potential to grow into these huge plants hundreds and even thousands of times bigger. It would make sense if the smallest seeds produced the smallest plants but that isn’t necessarily the case. Apple seeds are smaller than seeds of corn and yet an apple tree can grow to be significantly larger than a corn stalk. Avocado pits are a rather decent size and yet avocado trees are not the first which comes to mind when we think of big trees.
For the people to whom Jesus was speaking, a commonly known seed was the mustard seed. If you have ever seen one, they are rather tiny. And yet, a mustard seed has the potential to grow to be 20 foot tall or even taller. That’s a lot of potential growth.
So what can be learned about the Kingdom of God from the tiny yet mighty mustard seed?
First, we can learn that, just as plants grow without us being able to visually perceive every single, individual fraction of a millimeter, so the Kingdom of God is always growing. Jesus doesn’t tell this parable to illustrate how he is starting something new but rather to emphasize that, just as the cycle of seeds and plant growth has been, and always will be, part of the reality of life, so will the Kingdom of God always be part of the reality of our life. Even when we can’t perceive it, just as even when we can’t always perceive the ongoing growth of a plant. However, when you take a step back and look at a plant over time, especially this time of the year, you can see evidence of lots of growth and change. Similarly, when we step back and a bit and look at what has happened over a period of time, we can often see how God has been at work in ways we couldn’t see in the moment.
Another point that Jesus makes in this parable is the mustard seed, when fully grown, serves a purpose not just to humankind but for birds as well. The Kingdom of God isn’t just about God, it is about us. It isn’t there just to be there but it is there for all of creation. I recently told a friend of mine that if you want a real mind trip, study creation theology. It is a humbling experience to deeply study just how much God didn’t need to create humanity but chose to not only create mankind, but to create us in his image. Just as God designed trees to provide a place for birds to rest and enjoy shade, he created everything in his Kingdom to serve some other part of his Kingdom.
The final point to be take note of from this parable is the reality that, despite its tiny size, the mustard seed did indeed grow. Too often we convince ourselves that unless the seed of faith we have to plant is big and perfect, we have no business of trying to sow it, no business in sharing it with anyone else. However, Jesus reminds us there that no matter how small it may be, when it is time to plant you must put it out there and see what God has in store. He purposefully picks one of the smallest known seeds to his audience to illustrate his point. It isn’t about how much faith we start out with, nor is it about how much we have known and experienced the Kingdom of God. It is about the potential for growth.
This spring has been a bit of an odd one here at camp. While the snow melted early and we had a warm day or two, it has largely been cool and dry until the past week or so. We finally started getting the rain we desperately needed for the crops, the lake, the rivers, and the grass. And as soon as the rain stopped, it got warm and humid. Everyone’s lawn is suddenly lush, green, and growing like crazy. In fact, as homeowners and lawn mowing companies suddenly scramble to find the time to keep up with the rapid growth, it hasn’t been uncommon to see lawns which have gone to seed. While it doesn’t look the best and you might be annoying your neighbors, where the grass has been struggling it is actually a good thing to help it strengthen itself as a plant for future growth.
So it is with the Kingdom of God. At times it is easy to see God working in this world, to see the evidence of His Kingdom. The growing conditions are just right like they have been for the grass the last 2 weeks in northwest Iowa! Other times we have to trust that God is still working even when we don’t see much if anything in the way of tangible evidence. Despite the dry, cool temps, the grass wasn’t dead around here, it was just waiting and warming up as the soil thawed from winter and letting its roots grow deeper and stronger in search of moisture. But always, regardless of the size of the seed, here is great potential for growth.
- What is the smallest seed you can think of? If you let it grow, how big does the plant it produce generally get? What is the purpose of the plant it produces?
- In what ways to do you see evidence of the Kingdom of God in the world and your life at the moment? Is it a season of easy to see rapid growth or is it a season where you are trusting God to be working more behind the scenes?
- Do you judge faith by what you can see right now, or what it has the potential to grow into?