Calling all Nations into the Mustard Tree : Mark 4:30-32

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Have you ever wondered why Jesus spoke in parables?

He must have thought they were a good way of teaching as there are about forty recorded in the bible conveying the revolutionary message of how God’s kingdom was drawing nearer.

There are several reasons why he did this.

One was to provoke thought and discussion, encouraging listeners to try and decipher the mysteries of faith for themselves, rather than be spoon-fed basic facts.

Because, in most cases, they would need to give the parable a lot of thought, and so would then easily remember the message.

This brings us to the parable of the Mustard Seed, which could perhaps in a nutshell be rather crudely described as;

‘A few disciples got together and evolved into a global church’.

But there is a lot more going on in this tiny parable – there are hidden depths.

I have been analysing it from the perspective of the birds and trying to understand what they symbolise:

Then I learnt of a significant bird migration path that passes directly overhead in the skies above where Jesus taught the mysteries of faith.

This corridor unites birds journeying from the far reaches of northern Europe, Russia, and Asia as they undertake the strenuous journey between summer breeding locations and winter habitats.

All the various paths of the Flyway converge into this narrow bottleneck directly over the Holyland where Jesus ministered.

An estimated 1.5 million migrating birds pass through this unique corridor in the Middle East twice a year and many drop down and pause for refuge in the Holyland.

They need to rest from the arduous journey and build the energy required for the subsequent flight spanning out again across the Sahara Desert and onward south to the African continent.

So the skies, trees and waters would have been alive with an amazing range of birds from far-flung countries as Jesus taught God’s eternal truths and set the foundations for His kingdom to reign on earth.

This splendid imagery made me wonder if Jesus was alluding to this when he told the parable of the mustard seed?

Perhaps he was implying the Church would not be reserved for certain people but would be a place for people of all nations.

Or was it that the Church would be a sanctuary, a safe haven, from the trials and tribulations of the world?

Maybe he was alluding to the missionary activity needed to develop the Church – with people travelling outside their comfort zone to share the gospel with others?

Or perhaps he was doing all these things and also describing a good and kind God who cares for each one of us, and offers refuge and hope for all?

The thing about parables is that, whilst some are quite easy to understand others, like this one, can be rather like, as once claimed by Winston Churchill when analysing the early events of WW2 ;

‘A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma‘ 

But I must say I have had fascinating random conversations about the parable of the Mustard Seed over the last couple of weeks with various local people as I have grappled with it’s meaning.

I have learnt an enormous amount about birds in the bible, bird migration patterns and starting from small beginnings, because of the different discussions.

And, I highly recommend this as a way for anyone to learn more about Jesus.

The Mustard Seed in the parable represented big things growing from small beginnings.

As recorded in the Book of Acts; after the events of Pentecost, Peter and the apostles began their mission to tell the world about the hope we all have in Jesus.

They started with a small base of people, which we can liken to the mustard seed.

They preached, performed miracles, and healed the sick. However, their actions led to their arrest and imprisonment by the religious leaders.

In an amazing turn of events, an angel of the Lord freed them from jail. 

Then without seemingly blinking an eyelid, they continued with their ministry. This agitated the religious leaders, who were trying to suppress their message of hope.

So Peter and the apostles were then brought before a council. The council wanted to stop the rapidly growing Christian movement.

However, one of the elders advised caution. He said many had come claiming to be the Messiah in the past, but their movements had always fizzled out.

He reasoned that if these men (the apostles) were also just following another man’s teachings, their movement too would fail.

But, he said, if their actions were inspired by God, then there would be no way of stopping them from building their Church. (Acts 5:37–39).

Today, we see the outcome of this line of thinking, because from a tiny group of followers Christianity has grown dramatically.

It is estimated that today 31% of the world’s population has faith in Jesus.

This growth testifies to the enduring power and influence of the apostle’s faith and confirms the claim of the wise elder who said, that if their endeavours were divinely guided, they would be unstoppable.

And nothing did stop them and their actions demonstrated what Jesus meant about the mustard tree growing from the smallest of seeds. Meaning the smallest of starts.

It was not easy for the early disciples and all who followed in their path, but great and amazing things eventually developed, around the world because Christians were willing to take small steps to build a church that now almost one-third of the world’s people belong to.

What Does This Mean for Us Today?

As the Mustard Tree grew from a tiny seed, so too we are spiritually growing and developing into all God has made us for.

The road is not always easy and sometimes it seems impossibly slow, but when we trust God’s hand is at work in unseen ways, we can leave our cares with him.

As we do this we can also take small steps to help bring more souls into the fold.

And it does not need to be too onerous, because we are all endowed with unique gifts, and have different ways of connecting with others.

Some might invite others to join us for a Sunday morning service, but there are many other ways of sharing the church with people.

For instance, inviting a family with children to join the children’s Sunday School/ Asking an older person along to our wonderful monthly Choral Evensong, and everyone likes a BBQ, so bring why not bring someone along to one of ours.

And it’s not just here in our parish. Next Saturday is the celebration of Britain’s first saint, St Alban. It includes an amazing procession down St Alban’s high street to the Cathedral, alongside giant puppets. It is great fun and educational too, for people of all ages.

Another challenge I leave you with is to have random conversations with one another about the things Jesus taught, particularly the parables.

Because as we learn from one another we develop in our faith.

And can then better help others understand the hope we have in Jesus.

This hope is as relevant to people of all nations today, as when he lived out his short life in the Holyland, explaining God’s Kingdom with timeless parables.

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