A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the verse “Trust in the Lord with all your heart.” Finding it in a remote place reminded me that even a small expression of faith could have big results. It reminded me of the parable of the mustard seed of faith.
When I’m doing my initial research I’m always so amazed by what I learn. Did you know that there are 3 distinct and different teachings by Jesus on the analogy of the mustard seed and faith? I thought there was only one… Here’s something else that stood out to me- Each teaching is a brief one or two sentences, and Jesus does not give any explanations. He just tells the disciples the parable and moves on.
Mustard Tree History
Now for a little background on the mustard tree. According to gardenguides.com, mustard trees are found in various areas in the Middle East and are thought to have originated in Persia (Iran). They grow best in hot, dry climates and yes, their seeds are one of the smallest in the world. From this tiny seed, a tree can grow up to 20 feet tall and 20 feet wide. One fun fact in the uses of the tree (besides making mustard!), is that the branches can be used as toothbrushes as they contain properties that resist bacteria and plaque.
I digress. Let’s move on to the parables.
Parable of the Mustard Seed
The first parable is found in Luke 17:5-6. Jesus had been teaching the disciples about some radical forgiveness qualities they needed to practice. They knew they would need help implementing them. “The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith! He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea’ and it will obey you.”
That’s it; Jesus then moves on to another topic.
What he’s telling them is that even with a tiny bit of faith, they could move a tree that grows up to 35 feet tall and tell it to go plant itself in the sea. In other words, the impossible. They needed only a tiny amount of the right kind of faith to do the impossible. It needed to be genuine. The amount wasn’t what was important.
A Genuine Faith
They needed a faith that was totally dependent on God. They had to be willing to completely humble themselves to him. It wasn’t the first time they would hear him speak about this kind of faith.
In Mark 11:22 Jesus tells the disciples to “have faith in God. I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.”
Jesus wants us to completely internalize that God can truly do anything. He wants us to have a mustard seed of faith, not a mustard seed of doubt. Both can grow exponentially if they are given what they need to flourish.
Second Parable of the Mustard Seed
The second parable is found in Matthew 13:31-32. “He 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.”
Again, no explanation, Jesus just moves on to the next parable.
The image of a great tree with birds nesting in its branches is found sprinkled throughout the OT, so it would be familiar to the disciples. He was telling them that his kingdom has the very smallest of beginnings, but will grow and expand profusely. People from all nations will come to find rest in his kingdom. He meant it for encouragement, and to scrub any doubts from their hearts and minds.
Third Parable of the Mustard Seed
The third parable is found in Matthew 17:20. Jesus had given the disciples the authority to drive out evil spirits and heal every disease and sickness before he sent them out.
But a man approached Jesus and told him that the disciples had been unable to heal his son. (Don’t you love that this father persists in finding healing for his son? When the disciples couldn’t heal him, he went straight to Jesus. There’s a lesson for us in there…)
Jesus heals the boy, and the disciples spoke to Jesus about it later in private. They asked him why they had been unable to heal him. “He replied, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
Parable of Faith
Jesus knew what the disciples would be up against later in their ministry. They would need a faith that could overcome great difficulties (move mountains). In each parable, Jesus uses the mustard seed to help teach the disciples that even the tiniest amount of genuine faith can bring something great out of something very small.
Even a small amount of genuine faith can take root and grow. Just like any seed planted in the ground, it sprouts, shoots up, grows, and spreads. Our faith- our complete trust in God- can gradually grow a strengthening change in us that takes away our fears and doubts.
When the mountains seem unmovable, we will not be consumed by them. Moving the mountain is about removing the fear the mountain brings. The mountains no longer control our thoughts and actions. We trust God to work his will in the circumstance that is best for us.
There is one more aspect of the mustard seed and faith I’d like to touch on. It’s not always about moving mountains.
God Works Through Us
Never underestimate what God can do with the smallest “mustard seed” sized acts of kindness, the weakest of prayers, the small words of encouragement, the smallest of shells in a remote building high up on a volcano to work his purposes.
Never underestimate what just one individual -you and I- can do when God is allowed to work through us. We can trust him to work through even the smallest of genuine, faith-filled acts to bring about his purposes. In fact, I think he’s counting on us to do so!
“Be full of joy, for it is by your own faith that you stand firm.” 2 Corinthians 1:24
“And I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith.” Philemon 1:6
Photo Credit: AnnMarie Anderson