The parable of the mustard seed (Mt 13:31-13:32)

“Jesus presented them

Another parable.

‘The kingdom of heaven is

Like a mustard seed.

Someone took it.

He sowed in his field.

It is the smallest of all seeds.

But when it has grown,

It is the greatest of shrubs.

It becomes a tree,

So that the birds of the air

Come.

They make nests

In its branches.’”

 

Ἄλλην παραβολὴν παρέθηκεν αὐτοῖς λέγων Ὁμοία ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν κόκκῳ σινάπεως, ὃν λαβὼν ἄνθρωπος ἔσπειρεν ἐν τῷ ἀγρῷ αὐτοῦ·

ὃ μικρότερον μέν ἐστιν πάντων τῶν σπερμάτων, ὅταν δὲ αὐξηθῇ, μεῖζον τῶν λαχάνων ἐστὶν καὶ γίνεται δένδρον, ὥστε ἐλθεῖν τὰ πετεινὰ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ καὶ κατασκηνοῖν ἐν τοῖς κλάδοις αὐτοῦ.

 

This parable of the mustard seed can be found in all 3 synoptic gospels, Mark, chapter 4:30-32, and Luke, chapter 13:18-19.  The mustard seed was the symbol of small things.  However, it could grow to become a tree or shrub where birds could nest.  There is no explanation of this parable except the clear indication that the kingdom of heaven may start out small but would grow to hold many people.  Jesus, via Matthew, explicitly presented them with another short parable (Ἄλλην παραβολὴν παρέθηκεν αὐτοῖς λέγων).  He said that the kingdom of heaven was like a mustard seed (Ὁμοία ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν κόκκῳ σινάπεως).  A man planted this seed in his field (ὃν λαβὼν ἄνθρωπος ἔσπειρεν ἐν τῷ ἀγρῷ αὐτοῦ).  When planted, it is the smallest of all seeds (ὃ μικρότερον μέν ἐστιν πάντων τῶν σπερμάτων).  But when it has grown, it is the greatest of garden plants or shrubs (ὅταν δὲ αὐξηθῇ, μεῖζον τῶν λαχάνων).   It then becomes a tree (καὶ γίνεται δένδρον).  Thus, the birds of the air could come and perch or build nests in its branches (ὥστε ἐλθεῖν τὰ πετεινὰ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ καὶ κατασκηνοῖν ἐν τοῖς κλάδοις αὐτοῦ).  What starts out small can become quite large.

The king was the great tree (Dan 4:20-4:22)

“‘The tree

That you saw,

That grew great,

That became strong,

That its top reached

To heaven,

That was visible

To the end

Of the whole earth,

It is you!

O king!

Its leaves were beautiful.

It fruit was abundant.

It provided food for all.

Animals of the field

Lived under it.

Birds of the air

Had nests

In its branches.

It is you!

O king!

You have grown great!

You have become strong!

Your greatness has increased!

Your greatness reaches

To heaven.

Your sovereignty reaches

To the ends of the earth.’”

Belteshazzar or Daniel told the king that he was the tree that he saw in his dream, since a strong man was often equated with a big sturdy tree. After all, the king, like the tree in the dream, had grown great and strong. His greatness had reached to heaven and was visible to the ends of the whole earth, because his kingdom was so great. Daniel described the tree with its abundant beautiful leaves and fruit that provided food for everyone. He used the same remarks as in the dream about the tree being a shady place for field animals and birds to build nests on its branches.

Get rid of the tree (Dan 4:14-4:14)

“The holy watcher

Cried aloud.

He said.

‘Cut down

The tree!

Chop off

Its branches!

Strip off

Its foliage!

Scatter its fruit!

Let the animals flee

From under it!

Let the birds flee

From its branches!’”

This holy watcher or angel from heaven told the king in a loud commanding voice to chop the tree down, cut off its branches, and strip it of all its leaves. The fruit of the tree was to be scattered all over the place. The animals should no longer lay under its shade. The birds should leave its branches. Thus, the beautiful tree would be cut down and be no more.

The king’s dream about the big beautiful tree (Dan 4:10-4:12)

“Upon my bed,

This what I saw.

There was a tree

At the center

Of the earth.

Its height was great.

The tree grew.

It became strong.

Its top reached

To heaven.

It was visible

To the ends

Of the whole earth.

Its foliage was beautiful.

Its fruit was abundant.

It provided food

For all.

The animals of the field

Found shade under it.

The birds of the air

Nested in its branches.

All living beings

Were fed from it.”

The king was laying in his bed when he saw a great big strong tree in the center of the earth. It was so tall that it reached to heaven and could be seen from the ends of the earth with beautiful leaves and lots of fruit. This tree provided food for everyone. Animals found shade under it, while birds built nests in its branches. This was quite a wonderful tree.

The people of Israel would return home (Ezek 36:8-36:8)

“But you!

O mountains of Israel!

You shall shoot out

Your branches.

You shall yield

Your fruit

For my people,

Israel.

They shall soon

Come home.”

Yahweh, via Ezekiel, told the mountains of Israel to shoot out from its branches. They were to get ready the yield from the fruit of its trees for his people. Why should they do this? Very simply, the people of Israel would return home soon, a common theme.

The wonder and splendor of this great cedar (Ezek 31:6-31:7)

“All the birds

Of the air

Made their nests

In its boughs.

Under its branches,

All the animals

Of the field

Gave birth

To their young.

In its shade,

All great nations lived.

It was beautiful

In its greatness.

It was beautiful

In the length

Of its branches.

Its roots went down

To abundant waters.”

This great cedar tree was splendid. All the birds of the air made their nests in its branches. All the animals of the fields gave birth to their young in its large shade. Many or all the great nations lived under its shadow. It was beautiful in every way, since it had great big beautiful long branches with deep roots that went down into an abundant water supply.

The planting of the seed (Ezek 17:5-17:6)

“Then the eagle

Took a seed

From the land.

He placed it

In fertile soil.

He planted it

By abundant waters.

He set it

Like a willow twig.

It sprouted.

It became a vine,

Spreading out,

But low.

Its branches

Turned toward him,

Its roots remained

Where it stood.

So it became a vine.

It brought forth branches.

It put forth foliage.”

Then this eagle took a seed from the land. He placed it in a particular fertile soil by some water, so that it was just like a willow twig. This twig sprouted and became a low vine, spreading out its branches toward him. The roots remained strong so that it became a vine with branches and foliage. Perhaps this is an allusion to King Zedekiah (598-587 BCE), who was placed on the throne of Judah by King Nebuchadnezzar.