Barry Newman's Blog

November 28, 2012

The Parable of the Mustard Seed (Part XIV)

Filed under: Parables of Jesus,The parable of the Mustard Seed — barrynewman @ 8:46 am

An Interpretation

In the light of the considerable discussion above, the interpretation of the parable turns out to be a simple one – embarrassingly simple, given the length of this paper.

The kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of God has very small beginnings.  But it is God’s kingdom. It will grow, expand, and develop into something of enormous proportions.  And many will come into that kingdom and find shelter there.

And what is said to happen in the future has already happened.

Is there also a reference in the parable to peoples from many nations finding security in the kingdom of God?  If there is no allusion to the Ezekiel 17 parable one might reply, “Maybe, maybe not”.  But if the Ezekiel 17 passage is in mind, the answer may well be “Yes”. That all three “parables” – those in Ezekiel 31, Daniel 4 and Ezekiel 17 may well set the “birds” in an especially significant light adds further weight to the idea that in the parable told by Jesus the birds are meant to have special significance also. It is possible that the parable that Jesus told, together with the parable of Ezekiel, to which it may well allude, do together, what on their own, they could not do. My own view is that the parable has overtones of Ezekiel 17, though somewhat muted. My guess is that if anyone had some reasonable knowledge of that parable it would be odd for it not to come to mind upon hearing Jesus tell his parable, no matter whether one’s language competency was in that of Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek.  Provided people had some reasonable theological astuteness they would sense the idea that the parable that Jesus told was referring among other things to “peoples from every tribe and tongue” finding their rest under the rule of God.

But what if they did not have such astuteness?  Would the situation be similar to that which existed for so many other parables – that hearing people did not hear and that seeing they did not perceive, for their hearts were hardened so that they did not understand?  Probably, “Yes”!

The Oddities of the Parable

For many what seems to stand out as an oddity of the parable is the fact that in reality the mustard plant is neither all that large nor all that high, yet it is spoken of as though it was fairly substantial, one way or another. As a herb, it is substantial.  As a tree, it is not large at all. And it has branches – large branches (Mark) when in reality they appear to be what you might expect with a bushy shrub – not all that large.  The mustard seed is very, very small – but not the smallest of all seeds.  Did Jesus know that?  Birds of the air might shelter in its shade but is it just a little too much to say that they lodged there?  I am not sure.  In the final analysis, if there are oddities, it is simply Jesus dictating theological truths which if needs be, must distort reality, rather than his telling a story about nature to which he must fit theological truths.

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