The Mustard Seed

Once Jesus was teaching his disciples about the Kingdom of God and he offered them this parable:

“What is the Kingdom of God like? With what shall I compare it? The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. A farmer takes it and plants it in his field. Even though the mustard seed is the tiniest of seeds, when it is grown, it surpasses all the other herbs and becomes the greatest of trees. So wide are its branches that the birds of the air come make their home in them!”

 I’ve heard it said (I can’t remember by who) that the Parables of Jesus are a wading pool for tiny children to play in and a vast ocean for sailors to explore. That has certainly been my experience. This simple little parable is easy enough for a child to grasp, yet it rewards continual meditation. Rather than give you some didactic explanation of what this parable is trying to say, let me instead offer you some questions to ponder while you meditate upon this parable yourself. What exactly does the seed represent? Is it a good deed, seemingly small and unnoticed? Is it the message of the Gospel planted in our hearts? Is it a small faithful band of disciples who will one day be the Church? Is it Christ, Himself, a man of no consequence, buried beneath the earth? Is it our own mortal bodies awaiting glory? Is it the promise of God beginning as a covenant with one man, growing until it eventually encompasses all of creation? Is it the life of the disciple that begins with a simple act of saying “Yes” to Jesus and continues until we are finally transformed into the likeness of Christ? Is it all of these or something else entirely?  See what I mean? You could probably meditate for a week on the mustard seed, to say nothing of the mysterious farmer, the dark soil, the majestic tree, and the many pilgrim birds which find safety in the outstretched branches pointing toward a bright blue heaven.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Unmerciful Servant

Once Jesus was asked by one of his disciples how many times the law required him to forgive his brother. “Should I forgive seven times?” he asked.

Jesus replied, “Not seven times, but seventy seven times.”

To explain this teaching, he told a parable:

The Kingdom of God is like a king who decided to settle all of his accounts. One by one, he brought his servants before him and demanded the money that they owed him. One servant was brought before him who owed him 10,000 bags of gold. The man could not pay so the king ordered that his home and all of his possessions be sold and that he and his entire family, be sold into slavery to pay the debt. The servant fell before the king, kissed his feet, and begged for mercy.

“Please, O wise and just King, show patience with me and I will pay back everything I owe you!”

The king was moved with compassion and, realizing the money was more than he could possibly pay back in a lifetime, forgave the debt.

As the servant was leaving, he spotted another fellow servant who owed him a bag of silver. He angrily grabbed the man by the throat and yelled, “Pay me back what you owe me!” His fellow servant fell down on his knees and pleaded with him.

“Give me just a little more time,” he begged, “and I’ll pay you back.”

The servant refused and took his case before the judge and had the man thrown in prison until he was able to pay the debt. This shocked all of the servants who promptly reported it to the king. This made the king absolutely furious so that he summoned the man before him and said to him, ” You wicked servant! You begged me for mercy and I forgave your great debt! Shouldn’t you have forgiven your fellow servant for the pittance he owed you?” Then he called his guards and demanded they throw the man in the dungeon and have him tortured until he payed off his entire debt.

Judaism, as well as Christianity, teaches the value of forgiveness. What was at issue for the disciple, was how many times he should forgive someone who consciously hurt him. Some rabbis taught that after three times, you were off the hook. Others taught seven. According to Jesus, we’re never off the hook for forgiveness. As this challenging parable demonstrates, forgiveness is not just a matter between you and your fellow servant, it is a matter between you and your King. When we weigh our sins against God against others sins against us, we are weighing 10,000 bags of gold against a sack of silver. This is a hard teaching but it is at the heart of what it means to be a disciple walking in the way of Jesus. When we pray, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debters”, we are entering into a contract. This contract comes with a promise of grace though. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” 

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…