Mustard Sunday

mustard plant
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

This Sunday is Mustard Sunday, when many churches will hear the gospel passage from Matthew 13:31-32 wherein Jesus says:

The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.

I’ve known people to get all sentimental about the mustard seed. I’ve seen people wearing necklaces with mustard seeds encased in amber or set in silver filigree. And it does make an easy object lesson for the “children’s sermon,” because you can get mustard seeds in the spice aisle at the grocery store just about anywhere. And, that this passage tends to get conflated with another saying about how “if your faith is but the size of a mustard seed, you can move mountains” (the armchair Christian’s equivalent of wielding an H-bomb) also makes it popular.

But this Mustard Sunday, let us remember that mustard, then and now, is a weed, notwithstanding when someone intentionally plants it. And as anyone who actually uses it in the kitchen can tell you, a little of it goes a long way. In Jesus’ parable, the plant is clearly out of control. It has grown to the point that birds are making nests in it. The weed has taken over the field. Jesus is implying that the kingdom of heaven is like a weed growing out of control. It’s a total pain in the ass. It’s attracting birds. You don’t want birds in your field. They’ll eat what’s left of your crop after the weeds get done with it. That’s why farmers invented scarecrows.

This is the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:1-9) in reverse. The birds pluck up the seed, the weeds choke out the plants. But now, instead of the devil and worries, Jesus says, these are manifestations of the kingdom of heaven.

Together, the two parables are opposite sides of the same coin. On the first side, the barriers to really following Jesus (as opposed to paying lip service one hour a week) are pretty tough. On the other side, once the kingdom of heaven gets planted in your life, it tends to take over everything else, whether you like it or not.