The Mustard Seed

Spring flirted with New England yesterday, showing just enough sunshine and warmth to make me believe that winter may end. So, of course, my wife and I spent the afternoon in the garden. A week ago, we planted peas. Yesterday, we were preparing beds for other, less hardy plants. I was delighted that the fall's hard work yielded beds needing little work.

This morning, we sowed seeds for a variety of plants we start under lights in the house. We'll transplant those near Memorial Day, when the danger of all frost has passed. Beets, lettuce, squash in many forms, these and a variety of herbs have all been tucked into potting soil, several hundred plants in all. Tonight we will plant flowers. This summer we plan a new bed toward the front of the house.

Some of the herb seeds were so tiny I could scarely see them. "Just like a mustard seed," I thought. The reference is to the parable of the Mustard Seed. Here it is, as rendered in Mark's Gospel, chapter 4, verses 30-32.

"The kingdom of heaven is like unto a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: which indeed is less than all seeds; but when it is grown, it is greater than the herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the heaven come and lodge in the branches thereof."

In point of fact, mustard is a bush, not a tree, but, like a fig, it can grown wild and harbor birds on intertwining branches. We have several figs which each winter fight off the deer. They stand like rooted tumble weed, defying wind, rain and snow.

This parable seems transparent to me, at least in part. When Mark wrote, in the generation following that which witnesses Jesus' brief career, the end of time was still expected, this all the more because the Romans had just destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem after a three year siege. But I don't expect the world to end any time soon. I am with Kant on the question of time: I am not at all sure whether we are in time or whether time is in us.

While the world may not end, speaking of the Kingdom of God may still make powerful metaphorical sense. Is there not present in the world something that draws us from ourselves? Call it living water, if you will. Whatever the metaphor, it seems obvious that freedom consists of more than the absense of restraint.

I struggle with the figure of the historical Jesus. For decades, I scorned the very topic, scoffing at the need for meaning, and, paradoxically, finding a sort of meaning in acts of mere defiance. But that mustard seed, so small, bordering on the unseen, it can yield powerful and sustaining growth. This parable reminds us that the world is indeed a place of magic. From such small, seemingly insignificant things as a mustard seed comes the power to transform the world. Perhaps it is enough merely to stand back and let blossom what will.

Comments: (4)

  • But Norm, you would never do that. You would never...
    But Norm, you would never do that. You would never sit back and let your seeds fend for themselves. And you went to the trouble to plant them at the right time, with the right soil mix, etc. too, don't forget. You want a garden to care for and to enjoy. You are way too sensible not to tend it.I drive school children and I talk with them about Einstein and other interesting characters. How kids love to learn! He was a very late bloomer, I tell them. (There's hope for us all!) In fact, he credits his famous theories to the fact that he was so delayed mentally. "I was a late developer," he said. He adds and I paraphrase, if I had not been such a late developer, I would not have spent time as an adult pondering such mysteries as the speed of light and the definition of energy and how gravity works. But, because I was a late developer I was still questioning how the universe works as an adult, something usually children think about.I heard an illustration I use with the kids that simplifies general and special relativity-as we bounce down the country roads. The point is simply this. Even time itself is a relative thing. It is a function of the speed of light, Einstein theorized. He's been proven correct, too. "A thousand years is as a day unto the Lord. And a thousand years is as a day." He lives in a realm not bound by time. His return is imminent-any second. Our face to face rendezvous with him is one heartbeat away. Our loved ones who peered down that sickening, endless drop and onto their smoldering graves of twisted, sharp, melting steel girders and broken glass-sirens shrieking through the air all over, could have been any one of us. Time, as we know it, tragically and with very little warning, ran out for each one of them. There are horrors and mysteries beyond our comprehension. We can be ready for death, if it comes in an instant or in many moons. With whatever portion of time we are given, we can prepare for that moment when we will look into his eyes and see him as he really is. He may come to us in one fell swoop, or we may go to him when we leave this dimension. All that any of us has is now and he is the god of the eternal now. And he is not willing that any should perish. Just like the beautiful garden that is coming. The gardeners will be delighted if all their seeds, even the smallest, sprout and grow and flourish.
    Posted on March 31, 2009 at 12:32 pm by Anonymous
  • I rejected someone's comment in error tonight . I...
    I rejected someone's comment in error tonight . If you retransmit it I will publish. Sorry
    Posted on April 1, 2009 at 12:25 pm by Norm Pattis
  • Who was this guy who said such things? I am the tr...
    Who was this guy who said such things? I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.2 Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.3 Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.6 If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.7 If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.8 Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.9 As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.10 If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love.11 These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.12 This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.14 Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.15 Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.16 Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.17 These things I command you, that ye love one another.18 If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.19 If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.20 Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.21 But all these things will they do unto you for my name's sake, because they know not him that sent me.Who could say such things and be in his right mind, unless...Can anyone picture another human being uttering words like these with a straight look on his face? Why did this guy, Jesus, say these things? What was he doing walking around saying, "But all these things will they do unto you for my name's sake, because they know not him that sent me.?" I could imagine a crazed person suffering from drug induced hallucinations or a severe mental disorder making wild and disjointed ego-driven nonsensical claims. But Jesus was not incoherent. He doesn't come across as someone who had taken leave of his senses. He stuck to a common, albeit complex theme about his purpose, his identity, his relationship with his father, etc., etc., Actually, he was so good at communicating what he was about, he was so sincere and convincing, that he inadvertently drove the brightest and the best educated of his culture into a jealous, murderous, hysterical frenzy. If he had acted even slightly nutty, he would have been scoffed at and ignored. But another dynamic was at play here. Something the religious elite were not prepared for at all. They failed to recognize the one they swore allegiance to, while he was right under their noses. These ultra-respectable wolves in lambs clothing were the only group of people Jesus condemned. It was they who saw him as a real contender. He had the stuff of legends. Have you ever read any C.S.Lewis? There is, Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, The Space Trilogy, Surprised by Joy, and The Chronicles of Narnia among others.
    Posted on April 1, 2009 at 3:42 pm by Anonymous
  • In the shuffling madnessof a locomotive breath,run...
    In the shuffling madnessof a locomotive breath,runs the all-time loser,headlong to his death.He feels the piston scraping -steam breaking on his brow -Old Charlie stole the handle andthe train it won't stop going - no way to slow down.Sees his children jumping offat stations - one by one.Woman and his best friend -in bed and having fun.Well, he's crawling down the corridoron his hands and knees -Old Charlie stole the handle andthe train it won't stop going -no way to slow down.He hears the silence howling -catches angels as they fall.And the all-time winnerhas got him by the balls.Well, he picks up Gideon's Bible -open at page one -I thank God He stole the handle andthe train it won't stop going - no way to slow down. TullTreatment for alcoholism at a rehabilitation facility can help to strip away the props addicts use to distract us from our pain. There are many kinds of pain. Howling silence is a unique, deafening, killer kind of pain. What is so amazing is that Love begins to flow from fellow sufferers stuck together, trying to get well. A sense of community and of belonging, like a supportive family many never had, begins to make silence more tolerable and less intrusive. The support from others who seem to understand us like no one else, allows us to begin to enjoy silence. Eventually, something comepletely unexpected occurs. We notice the gentle presence of One who was right by our side all along. He was waiting for us to become aware of just how desperately sick and how utterly incapable of healing ourselves we were. Finally, we threw in the towel. We let go of ourselves entirely. All of a sudden, we were overwhelmed by our awareness that we were not alone. Like the sun rising in the pitch black of a moonless predawn sky, the tenderness of a voice, like no other, surrounded us. In what seemed like an everlasting instant we were given the assurance of the love of an other: a real, true, living being who knew us and loved us just as we were, broken and bruised and defeated. That which led to our ultimate humiliation became the path to a brand new kind of living we could not have imagined.I thank God Old Charlie, or whoever he was, stole the handle!
    Posted on April 2, 2009 at 5:13 am by Anonymous

Add a Comment

Display with comment:
Won't show with comment:
How many sides does a square have?
*Comment must be approved and then will show on page.
© Norm Pattis is represented by Elite Lawyer Management, managing agents for Exceptional American Lawyers
Media & Speaker booking [hidden email]