Just for the record, the mustard we eat does not come from the mustard tree named in the Bible and pictured above.
In Chapter 4 Jesus gives us four parables. The first is the Parable of the Sower where seeds fall on four types of ground. When he had completed the parable, Jesus said, Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear. NIV
That statement seems to have unsettled his followers because the next verses are as follows.
When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that,
“‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving,
and ever hearing but never understanding;
otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’” NIV
This seems a dark statement from Jesus, so what is going on? First, the quote is from Isaiah 6:9-10. Here is the Isaiah passage which Jesus shortened somewhat.
“Go and tell this people:
“‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding;
be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’
Make the heart of this people calloused;
make their ears dull
and close their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.” NIV
Let me quote a note from the New English Translation. The Hebrew imperatival forms are employed rhetorically and anticipate the response Isaiah will receive. God was telling Isaiah that the people will not understand My words and will continue to sin.
Jesus uses this quotation to show the Twelve that most people will not understand the meanings of his parables, but the meaning is there for all those who allow the Holy Spirit to make the meaning clear.
Another citation from the NET is important. The key term secret can mean either (1) a new revelation or (2) a revealing interpretation of existing revelation. Jesus seems to be explaining how current events develop old promises, since the NT consistently links the events of Jesus’ ministry and message with old promises. Any time Jesus quotes scripture we need to go back and get an understanding of that scripture.
People through the centuries have built whole wrong religions on that one word: secret. Jesus has given us the power to understand the secret because it is not a secret in our usual sense. The parable is open; it explains the Word of God. That Word is understood by some but crowded out of other’s minds. Another way to say it: there is no secret.
Take today’s first parable. Then he said, “The kingdom of God is like a man scattering seed on the ground and then going to bed each night and getting up every morning, while the seed sprouts and grows up, though he has no idea how it happens. The earth produces a crop without any help from anyone: first a blade, then the ear of corn, then the full-grown grain in the ear. And as soon as the crop is ready, he sends his reapers in without delay, for the harvest-time has come.” Phillips
We already know the seed is the Word of God. Here, we see the seed grow where and as it will. You and I may share the Word with people, but it is God through His Holy Spirit who nourishes the seed. We can take no credit.
He also asked, “To what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable can we use to present it? It is like a mustard seed that when sown in the ground, even though it is the smallest of all the seeds in the ground—when it is sown, it grows up, becomes the greatest of all garden plants, and grows large branches so that the wild birds can nest in its shade.” NET
The next verses read: With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything. ESV This short passage makes it clear that the parables were given to the crowds, then explained to the disciples in private. We should also remember that his disciples included more than the Twelve. Based on what we know about rabbis of the day, a group of fifty would not have been abnormal.
One more quote to close, this from Ephrem the Syrian (second half of 4th Century). The fields have but one season of harvest; but from the Scripture there gushes forth a stream of saving doctrine… The Scriptures are garnered each day, yet the years of its interpreters never come to an end; and the clusters of its vines, which in it are those of hope, though are gathered each day, are likewise without end. ACCS
Be righteous and do good.