pass the mustard [the mustard manifesto]

March 12, 2008 | 4 Comments

I can’t seem to stop thinking about mustard.

A few weeks ago in class, we looked at these words of Jesus from Mark 4:30-31:

Jesus said, “How can I describe the Kingdom of God? What story should I use to illustrate it? It is like a mustard seed planted in the ground. It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of all garden plants; it grows long branches, and birds can make nests in its shade.”

I’ve heard these words most my life, although I think I have usually confused them with Jesus’ other words about mustard seeds and faith. However, looking at them again with new understanding (thanks to Thomas Keating), I would imagine these words sounded pretty foolish to those who were listening to Jesus when he spoke them.

While mustard was used well before Jesus’ time for many purposes, it wasn’t cultivated. It only grew in the wild. It can grow so aggressively that it is often considered a weed. Keating points out that it was illegal to plant mustard seed in a garden with other items for that very reason. Mustard can still be a problem plant today. Canada is the world’s largest exporter of mustard, but this government website explains the danger of how wild mustard can severely limit the yield of other crops.

So, Jesus is describing the kingdom of God as a weed planted in a garden. An illegal weed. Curious.

Mustard plants can grow large, but usually not more than four feet tall. They aren’t exactly towering trees. Jesus’ image of birds landing in a mustard plant is an allusion to a prophecy from Ezekiel 17:22-24 where birds represent other peoples coming to rest in the shelter and shade of the nation of Israel.

I am inspired by this metaphor. I wonder what it would truly look like to plant a church that would reflect the image of the mustard seed as Jesus describes it here. In the coming weeks, and maybe months, I will be offering scattered pieces of the mustard manifesto. (Yes, it’s kind of catchy, and kind of painful.) I’m going to offer some reflections on how we are thinking about a way of church planting that allows the kingdom of God to be like a mustard weed, er, seed.

  • I like the long branches part, but not more than four feet tall. This implies to me that we stretch out into those around us, inviting people to rest, as opposed to growing full of ourselves that we tower over others, completely out of reach, and out of touch.