Let's dive in!
‘The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.’He told them still another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.’ (Matt. 13:31-33)
I so love stories, and love Jesus' rather lavish employment of them. We listen to stories because each one of us has a little kid inside, who wants to be delighted, surprised and engaged.
So, away we go! We are going to be looking at three related parables in Matthew 13. We've already explored in earlier blogs the parable of the sower and the parable of the weeds. Keep those in mind as we look at these next ones. Right after the sower and weed parables come the mustard seed, and yeast parables.
What is the common denominator of all these parables? Something small and seemingly insignificant will become something mighty in time in the hands of a skillful individual.
Let's start with the "small" part. A crop seed. A weed seed. A mustard seed. Yeast. All are small without much to recommend them to the eye. They are not shiny like precious metals, nor catch the light like beautifully cut precious stones. They have no color to speak of: not the breath-taking blue of the sapphire, the dance of rainbows in a diamond or the fiery red of a garnet.
In fact, you would not even notice them lying on the ground. They would blend in with all the other debris in the dirt. Sand, pebbles, bits of plant matter, dust...these seeds would not even be noticeable amongst all that litters the ground.
But wait! Yes, they look insignificant...but what mightiness is contained in such nondescript and wee packages. Crop seed falls from the skillful hand of the farmer. Does he see what we see? We see tiny grains landing on soil--dead, inert and lifeless. He sees a fully-flowered field of lovely wheat, blowing in the late summer wind.
We see seeds just lying on the ground--they all look the same. All the seeds spring up, and even in bloom, the wheat and darnel look the same. It is at the harvest that the difference will be evident. In full bloom, wheat and its counterfeit, darnel (a wild, useless grass) will be seen for what they are: food and fuel, respectively.
Let's look now at the mustard seed--again, it is small and insignificant looking. Set it next to a pine cone, a sycamore seed or seeds of a fig, snugly embedded in the flesh of the fruit, and it pales in the comparison. The mustard seed looks like just more road debris.
Wait a minute. It is sown deliberately by a man. It's not just blowing around in the wind. It is sown and then it takes root. It is sown with an insight as to what it can be. It looks insignificant and has nothing to recommend it when you look at it. But the farmer knows what he is doing with the "least of all seeds." He see a beautiful tree with strong branches, and so, he casts the seeds in faith, knowing confidently of their potential. He sows by faith, not by sight.
The farmer also knows that the seeds' mightiness will only be realized in time. Time to sow, time to grow. The farmer has enough experience and knowledge to know when and where to plant these seeds. The results will come from skillful hands and wisdom. The right soil, the right amount of moisture and sunlight will all combine to produce what the farmer already sees in his mind's eye: a tree that will forever change the landscape.
Let's switch scenes and enter into a kitchen, with a woman making bread. Jesus emphasized wheat sowing and harvesting. Now, here is the results of the harvest: the ground wheat is in the hands of a skillful woman who will add yeast to make the wheat into a nourishing substance: bread.
The work of the farmer now enters into a kitchen, and is worked by another "farmer," if you will: a skillful woman who knows her family will need to eat.
The yeast is small and insignificant. It is worked into a "large amount of flour." The contrast is there--small seeds produce wheat, and wheat is ground into flour and now, again, a small thing is brought to bear: yeast. Do you notice a pattern? Small things in skillful hands bring bigger yields and those are in turn are used again with small things to bring bigger yields.
Wheat seeds need a farmer. Yeast needs a baker. Is the farmer any more significant than the seeds he sows? Would we even notice him? Would we even notice the woman making bread in her kitchen? Is she any more significant than the yeast she works into the dough?
No. Not to the world, anyway. We are far more interested in celebrities, the kings and queens of our modern world, than we are by the average, everyday kind of people.
Yet, look at the Kingdom of God and its economy: small things, insignificant by the world's standards, become mighty. Given enough time, with skillful hands and willing workers, the Kingdom of God can take root, providing shade and nourishment to a parched and hungry world.
We all have something to bring to God and partner with Him to bring about His Kingdom. The farmer, the wife, the wheat, the yeast...in our hands, not much to get excited about. But in the skillful hands of our Lord...watch out!
Jesus is in the business of taking small things—barley loaves and fish—and multiplying them to astronomical proportions for His Kingdom’s use.
1 Corinthians 2:9 tells us, “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”
He sows by love and we walk by faith, secure in the knowledge that He knows what He is doing. He is building His Kingdom and wants us to work with Him, trusting His timing.
Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet:
“I will open my mouth in parables,
I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.” (Matt. 13:34-35)
Next time, we'll see how Jesus ups the ante, and instead of picking insignificant things like seeds and yeast, he picks items that the world values. Treasure, pearls and valuable money-making fish will illustrate powerfully the Kingdom of God.
And if you have one of those days where you feel rather insignificant and rather unimportant in the world's eyes, go stand by a field of wheat or a bakery full of bread and say to yourself, "Without the tiny, almost unseen things of this world, none of this would exist. I am insignificant and rather unimportant in the world's eyes, but I exist and in God's economy, I have work to do."
One last observation on how God's economy works, reread the passage out of Samuel about a wee stinky shepherd boy whom God chose before the foundation of the world to do mighty things:
When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.”
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “The Lord has not chosen this one either.” Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, “Nor has the Lord chosen this one.” Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The Lord has not chosen these.” So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?”
“There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.”
Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.”
So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features.
Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.”
So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah. (1 Sam. 16:1-13)
Just tend your sheep. One day, your calling will come. Being anointed as the king over Israel had not even occurred to that wee shepherd as he watched over the sheep. In God's economy, sometimes we don't even consider or think about the things that God will call us to do. But He calls and His love is always at the center.
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