We look today at the parable of the mustard seed and we are looking at Klyne Snodgrass’ new big book on parables: Stories with Intent.
First, a greeting to Klyne … in the old days! 8)
What can we do to implement this parable? How has this parable been of benefit to you?
Here’s the text of Mark 4:30-32: 30 Again he said, ?What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. 32 Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.?
The oddity of the double question combined with the similar question at Isaiah 40:18 suggests dependence on Isaiah: “To whom, then, will you compare God? What image will you compare him to?”
Mustard seeds are proverbially small even though it was known that orchid and cypress seeds were smaller. Probably brassica nigra. The little seed germinates in five days and grows to about 10 feet high. The point is not about mustard seeds and mustard and later laws or about how many seeds were sown — the issue is the difference between a small seed and what happens when it grows.
Historically it has been read to speak of growth — of Jesus, of church, of an individual. But, all agree on this: the parable speaks of the presence of the kingdom in Jesus and his confidence in the future manifestation of its glory.
Klyne doesn’t think elements of the parable need to be allegorized; the parable is about the kingdom and the process of seed to big plant is what it is about. Just because Jesus is a sower in another parable doesn’t mean he is here. The surprising feature is the kingdom now (at time of Jesus) seems insignificant but will someday be grand and glorious. That’s the point.
Well, an age-old theory: the birds might allude to Gentiles since some OT texts connect birds to Gentiles who dwell in the shade of Israel (as a tree). Thus, Ezek 17:23; 31:6; Dan 4:9, 18; Ps 104:12. Klyne chips away at each and finds a direct allusion unconvincing. The tree shelters the way the kingdom brings comfort.
The question this parable answers is something like this: Jesus’ miracles are nice, but where’s the rest of the story?
The parable assumes growth but growth is not the point: organic unity between Jesus now and kingdom then is the point.
I can’t promise a Friday is for Friends on parables the next two weeks. We leave for South African next Friday and I’ll get to Klyne as soon as I can.