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The Parable of the Growing Seed – Mark 4:26-29

He [Jesus] said, “This is how it is with the kingdom of God;

it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how.

Of its own accord the land yields fruit, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.

And when the grain is ripe, he wields the sickle at once, for the harvest has come.

The Parable of The Mustard Seed  – Mark 4:30-34

He [Jesus] said,

“To what shall we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable can we use for it?

It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth.

But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.”

With many such parables he spoke the word to them as they were able to understand it.

Without parables he did not speak to them, but to his own disciples he explained everything in private.

Of the three Canonical gospels of the New Testament, “The Parable of the Growing Seed” (also called the “Seed Grows of Itself” or “Seed Growing Secretly”) appears only in the Gospel of Mark. A version of this Parable also appears in the non canonical Gospel of Thomas.

This parable follows the “Parable of the Sower” and “Parable of the lamp under a bushel,” and precedes the “Parable of the Mustard Seed.”

Though some scholars have suggested that this is Mark’s variation of the “Parable of the Tares of the Field”, there is no reason to assume this. This parable is quite different.

This is an often overlooked parable. Jesus does not explain the meaning of this parable. Nevertheless, we can understand what the symbols stand for by their use in the Parable of the Sower in Mark 4:1-9, Matthew 4:1-9 and in Luke 8:4-8.

This parable is about growth in the Kingdom of God.

The Man Scattering the Seed: A man scattering the seed is the same as a sower. In Mark 4:14, Jesus says, “The sower sows the word.

This identifies the sower as someone who spreads the Gospel – Jesus. This is confirmed in Matthew 13:38: He said in reply, “He who sows good seed is the Son of Man.”

Seed: If we tread back to Mark 4:14, we see that Jesus identifies the seed that the sower sows as “the word.”

We see that the man “scatters” the seed on the earth. The word “scatter” is βάλῃ (balē) in Greek, meaning “throws.” It suggests that the sower is not careful. It matches the image created in the Parable of the Sower of the Seed – the seed falls where it may. This is equivalent to the Gospel being preached indiscriminately on earth.

Jesus then says, the man “would sleep and rise night and day.” These words do not have any great significance other than showing the passage of time. During this time, the seed sprouts and grows meaning the Word of God embeds in the hearts of the people on earth.

A note on Mustard in the teaching of Christ

The people whom Jesus addressed during his life time were mainly rural folk who would have had enough knowledge of plants to understand the substance and nuances of Jesus’ teachings that involved plants.

Jesus taught profound spiritual truths to simple folk through parables, using relevant and familiar examples from everyday life. The mustard plant, mentioned in the three Canonical gospels and in the non canonical Gospel of Thomas is one of these examples.

The term “Mustard” is used to describe several plant species in the genera Brassica and Sinapis whose small mustard seeds are used as a spice and, by grinding and mixing them with water, vinegar or other liquids, are turned into the condiment known as mustard or prepared mustard. The seeds are also pressed to make mustard oil, and the edible leaves can be eaten as mustard greens.

According to Theophrastus and Pliny, mustard was grown in gardens and did not need any cultivating, as it sprouts all by itself.

Some suggest that Salvadora persica (Arak, Galenia asiatica, Meswak, Peelu, Pīlu, Salvadora indica,or toothbrush tree) is a species of Salvadora, also known as “mustard tree,” is the mustard meant in the bible because the Arabs are reported to call this tree chardal and the Hebrew equivalent is also chardal.

Salvadora persicais a popular chewing stick throughout the Arabian Peninsula, as well as the wider Muslim world. It is often mentioned that the Prophet Muhammad recommended its use. He is quoted in various Hadith extolling the twig’s virtues.

But this plant cannot be the mustard mentioned in the canonical gospels becuase Salvadora persica is a shrub unlike any member of the mustard family; it is never cultivated; found only in deserts; and the fruits are large.

So, the most probable contenders are plants of the Brassicaceae, a medium-sized and economically important family of flowering plants (Angiosperms), that are informally known as the mustards, mustard flowers, the crucifers or the cabbage family. Varieties that we normally come across are black mustard (Brassica nigra), Mild white mustard (Sinapis hirta), the white mustard (Sinapis arvensis or Sinapis alba), and Indian mustard (Brassica juncea). All these plants have small seeds.

So the logical conclusion arrived by many experts is that the parable points to Brassica nigra.

Brassica nigra

Brassica nigra (black mustard) is an annual weedy plant cultivated for its seeds, which are commonly used as a spice.

The seeds of both black and white mustard are similar in size – about 1.0 to 3.0 mm (1/8 inch) making them the smallest seed that can be planted in the ground. This clearly indicates that Jesus was comparing the mustard seed to other seeds that were commonly grown. Though there might have been numerous other plants with smaller seeds familiar to his listeners, there were only a few plants which grew large and rapidly in one season as a mustard, characterized by rapid germination of the seed. Mustard sowed one day would germinate and begin sprouting the next day.

From a botanical point of view, a grown black mustard would still be a herb. Trees in most parts of the Holy Land do not attain a large stature. The black mustard plant itself can grow from two to eight feet tall and could be considered a shrub. Wild mustard plants that grow over ten feet tall have been noticed near the Jordan River.

It has also been noticed that the stem of mustard plants becomes dry and wood-like, which gives it the look of a tree.

Black mustard is an exceptionally large mustard plant. But is it strong enough for birds to perch on them?

The answer can be found in Mark 4:32,

  • “But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.”

Almost all the versions of the gospel say that it becomes the largest of (garden) plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade. They do not say that the birds can make nests in the branches; but say:

  • can dwell in its shade
  • can make nests in its shade
  • can NEST UNDER ITS SHADE
  • will be able to perch in its shade
  • may lodge under the shadow of it
  • so that under its shade the fowls of the heaven are able to rest

and so on.

To summarize, the features of the mustard plant emphasized by Jesus in the Parable of the Mustard Seed are the small size of the mustard seed, the large size of the mustard plant in relation to the seed, and the rapid growth of the plant from germination onwards.

 

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