Parables are powerful teaching tools. They purify wisdom from our everyday experience, wisdom we often overlook. Parables are also multivalent, that is, they can be interpreted in several ways. Above all, parables invite us to draw our own conclusions. A teacher who uses parables shows respect for her/his audience. John Wesley put it this way: “He spoke the word as they were able to hear it – adapting it to the capacity of his hearers; and speaking as plain as he could without offending them. A rule never to be forgotten by those who instruct others.”
Our gospel today relates two parables about seeds. Both play on the smallness of the seed and how so much that is consequential is happening when no one notices. But it is the mustard seed parable that would have been most arresting for Jesus’ first-century audience. You see, the mustard bush was considered a weed, and a fatal one at that. The rabbis taught that one could not plant mustard in the same garden as other crops. There always had to be a wall between it and anything else. Why? Once mustard took root, it was nearly impossible to control. It would crowd out everything else.
We also note that the mustard bush is not the largest of trees and shrubs – “largest” is a bad translation. Rather, it is the “greatest” (from the Greek “meizon panton” – “greater than all”). Why? It is a place where “the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” The kingdom of God, it seems, does not mirror the powerful kingdoms of the world, yet it is a place where people will find peace. There’s wisdom in this – as we as a church go about our work for the kingdom, we do not need to focus on being the largest or loudest, but a safe refuge where all the “birds” will find peace. How do we continue to share the good news of salvation to all people?
From the Anglican Church of Canada and Sermons that Work.
Prayer: God of Mission, who alone brings growth to your church,
Send your Holy Spirit to give Vision to our planning, Wisdom to our actions And power to our witness. Help our church grow in numbers, In spiritual commitment to you, And in service to our local community,
Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. Thanks to Jane Keedwell, Christ the Redeemer Parish, for sharing this prayer.