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. Matthew 13:31-32
One major seed company’s most popular tomato seed is called the “Big Boy.” This hybrid tomato is a plant that can not only grow to five feet tall, but also yield tomatoes that can be one pound or more. Yet the seed from which the “Big Boy” plants come is tiny. Its almost imperceptible seed has the potential to explode into fruitfulness.
Jesus spoke about tiny seeds and big things.In his parable of the mustard seed, he lays out a riddle before the disciples, describing a sower, a seed, and a large plant nearing the scale of a tree. In saying “the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed,” Jesus was not just focusing on the seed, but saying that the kingdom of God is like the entire scenario of someone planting the seed, and the seed growing into something very significant.
Jesus forces his hearers to wrestle with the connotations of a small, almost imperceptible seed, a man who sows that seed in the field, and the image of a large tree which represents the reality and growth of God’s kingdom. With some irony, Jesus is playing with a picture from the Old Testament (most notably in Ezekiel 17:22-24 and 31:3-14) where the kingdom of God is depicted as a great tree with birds crowding its branches. The irony is that a mustard plant in full growth is more like a large bush—not a mighty cedar tree, yet still something big in contrast to its imperceptible beginnings.
As followers of Jesus, we sow and invest in ways that may seem small and insignificant to us. But within the kingdom of God, small seeds—a word of encouragement, a relationship, a deed of love, a prayer—yield fruit that is unexpected and out of proportion to the small seed that was sown. Such kingdom fruit is often beyond our expectations, and impervious to our attempts to manipulate or control it.
PONDER: What are seeds that others have sown in your lifethat have grown to produce fruit? What seeds are you sowing today?
• STARTING SMALL •
Having retired from his business career, Phil Lee wondered, What’s next? So he bought and renovated a historic downtown building and turned it into an art gallery. It was beautiful and he enjoyed it very much, but there weren’t many clients. One day he began looking deeply at one of the paintings. It shows Jesus on a mountain reaching down to pull a lamb off of a ledge. He asked himself, What about the one? There are many shepherds looking after the 99 other sheep, but who is looking for the one lost one? (Luke 15:4). He watched from the gallery as people walked by on the street, and he realized most of them would never be able to buy a $500 painting. They made up a crowd of the lost, and he wanted to reach them. He knew the building could be put to better use.
Phil believes that nothing worthwhile can be accomplished alone. You have to be a connector. So he called Mike Murphy, the recently appointed pastor of community engagement at Elmbrook Church, and simply said, “I want to show you something.” Phil believes if you know people who can do things better than you can, you should find them. He had the place and Mike had the vision. They were better together than apart. And so James Place began.
“Start small, start where you are, start now” was their motto. At the start volunteers did blood pressure screenings, but after a long time James Place came to offer job search assistance, health services, prayer, immigration services, and much more. People out on the street have found their way in and have become the faces of God’s masterpiece. Phil prayed that God would show them where the people were. They have been showing up in his life ever since, and the place has never been more beautiful.
“Drop a pebble in the water: just a splash and it is gone; but there’s half-a-hundred ripples circling on and on and on…” This poem by James W. Foley is a picture of the impact of small things. A pebble in a pond is nothing amazing, until you throw it in the water and watch the ripples. Sometimes we underestimate the power of small acts, like a kind word or caring gesture. But we never know how that act will grow and spread, and how many people we will impact in the process.
Read Matthew 13:31-32. What are small acts of kindness you can do for those around you? How does it make you feel when a friend does something nice for you? How can these small deeds grow and impact others?