Parables of Jesus
He explained another parable to them, saying: "The kingdom of heaven can be compared to a mustard seed, which a man takes and sows in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds but, once grown, it is larger of the other plants in the garden and it becomes a tree, so much so that the birds of the sky come to nest among its branches".
Matthew opens chapter 13 with the parable of the sower, in which he underlines the importance of the Word and how to face it: only those who receive the seed on good soil will bear fruit. The discussion continues with the similarities about the Kingdom of Heaven, which begin with the parable of the mustard seed and continue with the parable of the yeast, the hidden treasure, the precious pearl and the net full of fish of all kinds.
If in the parable of the sower Jesus reveals that it is not enough to listen to the Word, but it is necessary that the seed find the good field to grow, in the quoted passage it makes us understand that this seed, however tiny (a mustard seed is smaller than a pinhead), can develop prodigiously to become one of the largest plants in Israel (reaching three meters in height).
The purpose of this parable is to reveal, by means of a similitude, the mystery of the Kingdom of God. Here too we find the similitude of the field, of a man who plants his seed there and who, given the results, has chosen a good field to sow it. With the image of the luxuriant and leafy tree, Jesus refers to Ezekiel where it is written: "Thus says God, my Lord: I too will take from the twig of the cedar only its top, only a tip will detach and I will plant it on a high and wooded mountain.
I want to plant it on the high mountain of Israel and will spread branches and give fruit and become a lush cedar. Under him all the birds will dwell, and every bird will rest in the shade of its leaves. All the trees in the countryside will recognize that I, the Lord, have lowered the tall tree and raised the low one, I have dried the green wood and sprouted the dry one. I, the Lord, have spoken and will do so".
Mustard is an annual plant, with numerous branches and broad leaves, which belongs to the cruciferous family. It grows abundantly in Palestine, where even in the wild it reaches the height of three or four meters, so that birds can truly nest among its branches. The seed and the tree are a symbolism commonly used by the rabbis of the time.
The parable proclaimed by Jesus refers to the kingdom of God and to the long times of his waiting, of the patience and of the faith that in these times must be preserved, as it is necessary to let the seed develop in the secret of the earth, that is, in the mystery of your soul, before it starts bearing fruit. The disconcerting thing is that precisely this long and mysterious time is the truly decisive time in which the seed (the word of God) acts. There is a miracle that takes place, but underground, in silence and in secret: a very small seed, to which an enormous task is entrusted, must take root, mature and begin to develop what will be its future fruits.
Why not choose a good soil and not immediately plant a tree with its stem and branches? Because this is not the logic with which God wants to grow His kingdom among men: He sows seeds on the earth, very small seeds, which contain in themselves all the strength necessary to grow. It then becomes clear what the gospel logic of Jesus is: God does not plant trees but sows seeds, so that they can germinate and develop, and places the strength in them to grow. The logic of God is contained in the maturation of time, in the mystery of growth: God scatters small seeds to produce large trees. Everything that appears humble and small, if thrown by God, has the possibility of being the beginning of a great and majestic reality. Nothing can stop its growth: "sleep or watch, at night or during the day, the seed sprouts and grows. Like, he himself does not know".
"The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed," says Jesus; but what is this Kingdom? Luke reveals to us that it is not something that will come, but it is already presence among us (Lk 17,21), and it is Jesus himself: that little mustard seed, almost insignificant as it is tiny, is already inside us and waits only that the soil becomes fertile in order to grow; but how? Through the preaching of Jesus, through the proclamation of the Gospel: his word and his acceptance.
It is said: "To what can we compare the kingdom of God or with which parable can we describe it? It is like a mustard seed which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds that are on earth; but as soon as sown it grows and it becomes larger than all vegetables and makes branches so large that the birds of the sky can shelter in its shadow".
So he said, "What is the kingdom of God like, and what will I look like? It's like a mustard seed, which a man took and threw into the garden; then it grew and became a shrub, and the birds of the sky they settled among its branches".