If you ever have the chance to visit the Mount of Olives just outside Jerusalem, you can sit on a stone wall directly in front of a large mustard plant, about 30 feet wide. It’s quite something to see the very things that Jesus uses as part of his teaching right there in front of you, and – although I’ve never been to Israel – I recently read the account of someone who sat on this very wall, and studied a tiny black mustard seed, marvelling at the huge bush it grew into.
There’s more: if you sit on this particular wall, you can not only see Jerusalem, but also, in the far distance, the mountain on which King Herod built his palace (Herodium) and the Dead Sea beyond it. Now imagine Jesus telling his disciples that with a mustard seed of faith (picked from the bush he was standing next to) you could tell a mountain to throw itself into the sea! The image of divine authority making mincemeat of worldly power and ambition is brilliantly illustrated, right there in front of your eyes.
We don’t know if this was where Jesus first uttered this amazing teaching (although he was in Jerusalem at the time – Mark 11:22-23), but the teacher leading this particular expedition (Ray van der Laan) went on to say this: ‘That is the most feared plant in all Israel, the mustard plant. It’s feared because once it takes root it can’t be destroyed. You can try to burn it out, stomp it out, tear it out, but eventually it takes over everything in its way… The mustard seed is the kingdom of God! Once it gets planted, nothing can stop it!’
And that is the point of this short but powerful parable. The mustard seed is a great image, in both directions. It reminds us that much of the time we feel small and insignificant: Christians are now a small minority in this country, and we can often wonder how much effect we really have.
And yet, this seed has great power: it grows and grows, and ultimately nothing can stop it. We can believe this because it’s not down to us: it is the Kingdom of God, the almighty creator and ruler of the universe, the eternal I Am, the one in whom all things live and move and have their being. This God is pulling the strings, and this is the source of our confidence.
Today, let’s choose to place our trust in the Jesus who declares these things: and let’s dare to believe that this glorious kingdom will keep growing: both in our lives, in those around us and across our broken world.