The Mustard Seed

Ezekiel 17:22-24

Psalm 92:1-4, 11-14

2 Corinthians 5:6-17

Mark 4:26-34

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 hearNIV

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!’”

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.”

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 everythingESV 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 endACCS

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

The Gospel of the Good News

Genesis 3:8-15

Psalm 130

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

Mark 3:20-35

Before we look at today’s Gospel reading, let’s see what preceded it. In the first 6 verses, Jesus heals a man who’s hand was withered and useless. The key verse is four: Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silentNIV

Jesus does not make a big deal of this event, except for the question. In effect, he was asking, ‘how can it be wrong to do good?’

In verses 7-12 we see Jesus healing many people by the lake. Whenever the impure spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” NIV This prepares us for what follows.

He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demonsNIV Jesus was able to drive out demons and now he gives that authority to the Twelve, yes, including Judas.

And that leads us to the crowded house—likely Peter’s—and Jesus being accused of being in league with the devil. The scribes who had come down from Jerusalem were saying that he was possessed by Beelzebub, and that he drove out devils because he was in league with the prince of devilsPhillips Jesus could have been more derogatory and called the scribes stupid for such inconsistent statements. ‘Why would the devil want anyone to drive out his demons?’

Let’s look at two different versions of this segment.

I assure you that human beings will be forgiven for everything, for all sins and insults of every kind. But whoever insults the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. That person is guilty of a sin with consequences that last forever.” He said this because the legal experts were saying, “He’s possessed by an evil spirit.”  Common English Bible

“I assure you and most solemnly say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and all the abusive and blasphemous things they say;but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit and His power [by attributing the miracles done by Me to Satannever has forgiveness, but is guilty of an everlasting sin [a sin which is unforgivable in this present age as well as in the age to come]”—[Jesus said this] because the scribes and Pharisees were [attributing His miracles to Satan by] saying, “He has an unclean spirit.” Amplified Bible

I don’t often use the Amplified Bible but it is helpful here. God, through the Holy Spirit, drove out demons from people. Jesus points out that Satan had nothing to do with it. Giving him credit instead of the Spirit of God is the worst sin a person can make. God heals, Satan enslaves.

Paul speaks of the Holy Spirit in today’s reading in this way. The outward man does indeed suffer wear and tear, but every day the inward man receives fresh strength. These little troubles (which are really so transitory) are winning for us a permanent, glorious and solid reward out of all proportion to our pain. For we are looking all the time not at the visible things but at the invisible. The visible things are transitory: it is the invisible things that are really permanentPhillips

We in America have the misfortune to live in the end phase of an empire. The end phase is always characterized with greed, over consumption, and the rejection of religion. That is over simplified, but this is not a critique of the history of the USA. The question for Christians is how to be followers of the Messiah in such a time.

We must reject the prosperity gospel, for example. It always leads to the downfall of those who practice it. Jesus was not here to bring wealth to the poor but to bring life to the poor. Life comes from God alone.

As Jesus said in Matthew 11:4-6—Jesus gave them this reply, “Go and tell John what you see and her—that blind men are recovering their sight, cripples are walking, lepers being healed, the deaf hearing, the dead being brought to life and the good news is being given to those in need. And happy is the man who never loses faith in me.” Phillips

With his background we should not be surprised with Jesus’ words in Mark 3:34-35. And looking at those who were sitting around him in a circle, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” NET

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence