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Parables of Jesus: The Growing Seed and The Mustard Seed (Mark 4:26-32)

Pastor of Iglesia Conexiones, a baptist church in Jessup, MD. B.A. in Bible, B.S. English Ed., M.S. in Educational Leadership.

In Mark 4:26-32, Jesus tells two parables about seeds: one is a growing seed, and the other is a mustard seed. Both parables are related to the parables he previously told in the same chapter (the sower and the seed, and the lamp and the measure), and both parables also make new points.

The Parable of The Growing Seed

26 And he said, “The kingdom of God is like this: like a man scatters seed on the ground. 27 And he sleeps and gets up, night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows—he does not know how. 28 By itself the soil produces a crop: first the grass, then the head of grain, then the full grain in the head. 29 But when the crop permits, he sends in the sickle right away, because the harvest has come.” (Mark 4:26-29, LEB)

Interpretation of The Growing Seed

In the two previous parables (the sower and the seed, and the lamp and the measure), the Lord was talking about the word of God. This word of God, however, was not the Bible, nor was it the gospel as you and I know it today. Instead, it was the good news about God's kingdom: the good news was that God's kingdom had arrived (Mark 1:14-15).

What is God's kingdom? God's kingdom is God's dominion. In the book of Daniel, God's kingdom is comparable to Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome: it is an empire that will rule over all the world (Daniel 7:17-18).

In the parable of the seed, Jesus teaches something about God's kingdom. What does he teach about it?

Like the parables of the lamp and the measure, this parable is elaborating on the parable of the sower and the seed (that's the context of the parable). So, we should know that the seed is God's word concerning the kingdom, and that the man who scatters the seed is Jesus.

As we look into the details of the parable, we notice that once the man has planted the seed(s), he has to wait for the seed to naturally sprout and grow over time. That's the main point of the parable: after Jesus proclaimed the God's word about God's kingdom, God's kingdom will grow over time (this should remind us of the stone growing into a mountain in Daniel 2:35).

The second point of the parable comes at the end. When the plant has grown and produced a ripe fruit, the man uses the sickle to harvest the crop. The point is that the crop will be collected by the man: in other words, Jesus will collect the members of God's kingdom, those who were produced by God's word.

How will he collect them? Well, a study of the rest of the Bible will reveal that he will return to resurrect the members of God's kingdom, give them eternal life, and destroy all those who are not members of God's kingdom (for example, Matthew 3:12, 1 Corinthians 15:35-40, 42, 50).

The point of the parable is that the kingdom will grow slowly over time until it is time for Jesus to return for the members of God's kingdom.

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One objection that some may reaise to this interpretation is that the man does not know how the seed grows, so he could not possibly be Jesus because Jesus is the Divine Word of God and knows all things. Ok... well, personally, I think anyone raising this objection should remember that this is just a parable: the point is not that Jesus doesn't know how the seed grows, the point is that the seed grows because God is in control of its growth. There is nothing in Mark 4 that indicates that the man is someone else. Therfore, whereas the man represents Jesus, the ignorance is actually human ignorance—our ignorance.

The Parable of The Mustard Seed

30 And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or by what parable can we present it? 31 It is like a mustard seed that when sown on the ground, although it is the smallest of all the seeds that are on the ground, 32 but when it is sown it grows up and becomes the largest of all the garden herbs, and sends out large branches so that the birds of the sky are able to nest in its shade.” (Mark 4:30-32, LEB)

Interpretation of The Mustard Seed

Like the parables of the lamp, the measure, and the mustard seed, this parable is elaborating on the parable of the sower and the seed (that's the context of the parable). So, we should know that the seed is God's word concerning the kingdom.

The seed is small because, when the kingdom had come, the kingdom of God was first announced by John the Baptist and then by Jesus—so not many people were announcing that the kingdom had already come.

Nevertheless, the mustard seed (which, back then, people considered the smallest seed) will eventually grow into a great shrub, one that is large enough for the birds to make nests on it. In other words, God's kingdom may have started with one or two men proclaiming the word about the kingdom, but the kingdom would eventually grow to be very large, so large that birds can nest on it.

Has that happened? Yes, it has! Today, Christianity is one of the largest religions in the world—most likely, the largest religion in the world. And it has been so for a very long time.

And who are the birds nesting on the shrub? It's just a parable! The point of the birds nesting on the shrub is to point out how large the shrub is. But if you want to think the birds represent people, I don't see a problem with it: Jesus brought God's kingdom to Earth for the sake of people.

Conclusion

The parables of the growing seed and the mustard seed elaborate on the parable of the sower and the seed. Once you realize that they are related to this parable, you can easily interpret the basic element in the parables (the seed) and make sense of the rest.

There is no need to explain what every little detail in the parables represents: if you get the main idea, that's good enought for you to understand what the Gospel of Mark is trying to communicate.

John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus were the first ones to tell people that the kingdom had come. Of course, the Lord Jesus has preeminence becuse he is the king of the kingdom (he is the Messiah and the Divine Word of God).

These parables indicate that God's kingdom would grow over time and would grow very large. Eventually, when the Lord returns, he will gather all those in whom the word of the kingdom has produced fruit, those who are members of God's kingdom—and he will gather them for salvation.

As you read the rest of the Gospel of Mark (and the Gospels of Matthew and Luke), you will realize that what these parables are teaching is one of the main points the Gospel of Mark is making—so the interpretation fits well.

© 2022 Marcelo Carcach

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