Mark 4:26-34 - The ministry of mustard plants (metaphorically speaking)

Updated: May 15

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Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”


He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.


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This is the Gospel selection to be read aloud by a priest on the third Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 6], Year B, according to the lectionary for the Episcopal Church. Depending on whether track 1 or track 2 is chosen, there will be a pairing of Old Testament and Psalms also read aloud. If track 1 is chosen, the a reading from 1 Samuel will present: “And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” That will be paired with a reading from Psalm 20, which sings: “Some put their trust in chariots and some in horses, but we will call upon the Name of the Lord our God.” If track 2 is chosen, then there will be a reading from Ezekiel, saying “I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of a cedar; I will set it out. I will break off a tender one from the topmost of its young twigs.” A singing of Psalm 92 will include the verse: “They shall still bear fruit in old age; they shall be green and succulent.” This Gospel reading will be preceded by a reading from Second Corinthians, where Paul wrote: “For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.”


It is important to grasp the timing of Mark’s fourth chapter. It meshes perfectly with Matthew’s fifth chapter, which is mistakenly called “the sermon on the mount." Last Sunday, when the Gospel reading came from Mark’s third chapter, a large crowd had barged into Jesus’ home. Because Jesus was drawing such a following and because he had repeatedly healed on the Sabbath, in synagogues, Jesus was either kicked out of the synagogues or he volunteered to take his ministry to a place where large crowds could be accommodated. That was on the northeastern shores of the Sea of Galilee. The “sermon on the mount” was actually a series of sermons that Jesus preached, most likely on each Sabbath or possibly on the following Sunday. This means that Matthew’s fifth, sixth, and seventh chapters stretch over months of Sabbaths.


In verse 1 of Mark 4 is read [not aloud today]: “ Again Jesus began to teach beside the sea.” [NRSV] The Greek written there actually is: “Kai palin , ērxato didaskein para tēn thalassan,” which begins with a capitalized “Kai” showing great importance in the one word that follows: “again, once more, further.” (Strong’s) That importance says a routine had begun, with Mark 3:7-12 telling of the first time Jesus went to this area and a large crowd followed him. All of these gatherings were so large that Jesus at first preached from a boat he had the apostles have ready there for him. (Mark 4:1b) The water then separated the people from overwhelming Jesus with their adoration and needs. He would later move to the mountainside, where the acoustics were better and the crowd could hear him clearly, without clinging to him.


It should also be known that the practice of reading Scripture aloud is a Christian adaptation of the practice in Jewish synagogues. In Luke 4:21 Jesus stood after a reading from the scrolls and said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” [NRSV] The difference between the Jewish religious service and a Christian equivalent is the Jews allow for open discussion. The Christian service does not allow for such. The legitimate excuse for this denial is the first Christians preaching sermons [beginning with Jesus] were divinely knowledgeable of the meaning of all Scripture; so, they were there to explain what had been read aloud in a synagogue, but nobody explained and nobody had any answers as to the truth of meaning. Thus, every “sermon on the mount” was specifically addressing a reading from Scripture, which had never before been clearly explained.


In Mark 4:2a [again, not read aloud today], we readers are told, “He began to teach them many things in parables.” A parable takes something that is commonly known and accepted and then applies that to a reading from Scripture, so that the Spiritual becomes mirrored in common knowledge in the physical universe. By speaking to the crowd in parables, Jesus was not giving them a direct explanation of meaning, because human brains are quite capable of twisting the words they hear into words they want to hear or words that were not spoken [paraphrases, such as the English translations of Scripture]. Additionally, a parable makes one work to discern the meaning, based on a presentation of metaphor. One must take a hint and then see for oneself how that makes Scripture have meaning to each individual. Working to solve a parable shows Yahweh that one is willing to take personal steps towards Him [then He will help one find the answers sought].


In the accompanying readings today, both the Ezekiel reading and Psalm 92 speak of Yahweh planting things on the earth. In Ezekiel, a verse sings: “Under it every kind of bird will live; in the shade of its branches will nest winged creatures of every kind.” That is seen reflected in this sermon by Jesus, where he told the parable of the mustard seed, Jesus said it “puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” This becomes metaphor that explains such a reading from Scripture the crowd of Jews would have heard, needing explanation.


In Psalm 92, David wrote: “Those who are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God; They shall still bear fruit in old age; they shall be green and succulent.” Therefore, when Jesus spoke “the harvest has come,” this could have been spurred by a reading such as that.


Just as Jesus spoke in parables as his way of making the faithful work to see the truth of Scripture for themselves, the parables told by Jesus, recorded by the Apostles, become the source of explanatory sermons necessary today. In that regard, Jesus asked his disciples [not read aloud today], “Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand all the parables?” (Mark 4:13) Jesus then explained the parable of the sower [again, not read today], which he had preached to the crowd. He explained to the disciples, “Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them.” (Mark 4:15b)


The meaning of that is this: listening to someone tell the meaning will soon be forgotten, because it is impossible to absorb the brain of another as one’s own. Quoting some author of scriptural works of explanation [such as Bonhoeffer, but all others as well] makes double the problem of understanding Scripture; because, if one does not understand the Holy Bible, then hearing what someone else said just makes understand more complex. A parable is easier to recall; and, such a story forces one to do the work to bring meaning to the brain one possesses, the only brain that matters. As such, that what one has discerned for oneself will be owned thought; and, Satan cannot make that knowledge be erased.


This is why one must see the sermons preached by Jesus as being little bits at a time. Jesus would not sit for hours speaking one parable after another, or one gem of wisdom after another [like some mind control artist - cult leaders], because Satan would take away that which had been sown, as soon as each seed fell. A brain needs time to work on one small hint, before it can begin to work on another small hint. Therefore, this reading that tells of the growing of grain, until harvest, and then the planting of a mustard seed … they were two separate lessons. Mark’s Gospel simply states one before the other, making modern minds believe everything happened at one time. The similarity of gardening makes the two seem together adds to that conclusion.


Because of the metaphor of a seed being planted and growing and harvested, it is very easy to overlook how Jesus began a metaphorical explanation that was relative to “Thus is the kingdom that of God.” What does farming or gardening have to do with the "kingdom that of God"?


The reading from 1 Samuel is read by modern eyes and brains and thought to be little more than an ancient history lesson. Ho hum, yawn. Last Sunday we read from the same book, reading about the elders going to Samuel and demanding he appoint them a king, to be like other nations. They wanted a kingdom of their own, not the “kingdom that of God [Yahweh].” Today, we read that plan had failed, as “Yahweh was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel.” That led to Yahweh telling Samuel to go to Bethlehem and anoint one of Jesse’ sons. As to which one, Yahweh would tell Samuel that when the son was in front of him.


What if that ‘ancient history’ had been read that Sabbath before Jesus taught this lesson about the growing of grain? What if that history, seen as having been written because it bore Spiritual meaning, gave rise to the question, “Would the kingdom of God be like that of David over Israel?”


That is a legitimate question that should be asked, whether or not someone like Jesus is around to tell a parable in response.


When Jesus began his parable, the translation that says, “as if someone would scatter seed on the ground,” the literal Greek states: “as a human being should cast seed upon the soil.” Rather than “someone,” Mark wrote “anthrōpos,” which is "a human being," either male or female. Without regard to the actual physical expectations of who works a farm and who casts out seeds, men and women today should see themselves as a planter Jesus was making a parable about. Still, when “the kingdom that of God” is the preliminary given, Jesus himself can then be seen as the "human being," as an extension of God on earth. Therefore, he was the “seed cast upon the fertile soil” that was Judaism; and, Christians today fill that same scenario, when reborn as Jesus.


Verse 27, is translated by the NRSV to say: “and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.” The Greek from which that translation comes includes five uses of the word “kai.” Everyone of those uses were written by Mark to place important emphasis on the word[s] that followed and before the next presence of “kai.” Knowing that, this is how verse 27 should be read (according to a literal translation of the Greek text):


kai should sleep”

kai awaken night”

kai day ,

kai this seed should sprout”

kai grow ;

“as long as not beholds self .


By recognizing the power of a word that acts as a marker of importance, one can see how the intent of what Jesus said (which seemed to be talking about a farmer planting seeds) speaks in the hypothetical [Greek subjunctive mood], where “sleep” refers to the mortal state of being, which is bound to a realm of dead matter. This means “should sleep” is hypothesizing about ordinary life for human beings. It becomes a statement that Yahweh sends eternal souls into dead matter [dry bones], so a living soul enters a "sleep" state on purpose ["should"], meant to find its way back to eternal life with God.


That understood, the next two words go together (not easily recognized), as “awaken night.” That speaks of prophetic dreams or visions in the wake state, where a seed of truth has been planted in the fertile mind of a believer. In the death of "night" comes an "awakening." This then is Jesus talking about one led to have an ‘aha moment,’ where an inkling of insight takes root.


This then leads to “day,” which is the light of truth shining forth. From that light of truth, the implanted seed breaks the surface and becomes an idea that cannot be kept down. Once an idea takes root and breaks the surface, drawn to the light of "day," it will not reenter 'the womb.'


This then leads to the “growth” of an idea that is relative to Yahweh and His kingdom within one’s being. The "kingdom that of God" is within, with one's soul being married to Yahweh. It is not somewhere unknown or in outer space.


These steps take place naturally, “as long as” the flesh [“earth”] does “not behold self” as greater than Yahweh. Here, the use of “autos,” which means “self,” must be recognized as meaning one’s soul; and, a soul that “does not behold” or “does not see” figuratively [from “oiden”] reason to question Scripture, nor desire to know God, is not a true believer.


From seeing this that is written, verse 28 then begins with the word “automatē,” which means “automatic.” This is then stating what comes naturally, as far as the earth bringing forth fruit. The word has been translated as “of itself,” where [once again] a self ["itself"] must be seen as a soul. Thus, verse 27 is saying the spiritual presence of a soul in the “earth” is that of life animating a body of flesh. A soul will naturally take a seed of thought planted in the brain and treat it in the same way as would a physical seed planted in the ground. This is an “automatic” process.


This then follows, where Jesus explained how the natural process of the earth is “first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.” That is metaphor for the same way ideas come forth. The “stalk” [from “chortos,” meaning “grass” or “herbage”] is then the “sprout” used earlier [“balsta”]. It is an inkling of thought, or an insight.


Then comes “an ear” or “head [of grain]” [from “stachyn”], which is the “growth” stated earlier [“mēkynētai”], also meaning “a lengthening” or “extension” of the “sprout” or “shoot.” This is then the automatic way a brain takes an idea as a problem to solve and processes it further, which can take place in dreams or visions ["night and day"]. Finally, when the “full grain in the head” or “ear” becomes that ‘aha moment,’ when something not understood before becomes clear “as day,” one has gained ownership of spiritual insight, which is kept as personal knowledge.


As such, when Jesus said that was when one “goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come,” the metaphor of grains harvested means beginning the process that provides the grains for others to consume [including oneself]. When the “sickle” is applied to an idea that has come to fruition, it is one that can no longer be kept to oneself. It must be shared.


While that harvesting might mean the need to cut away the chaff, which is all the twists and turns one’s mind takes developing an inkling to a studied readiness for public presentation that work becomes how one receives a parable. It is an idea that is ready to be cut and given to those whose hunger will have then done the necessary work to make the same idea their own.


Verse 30 then begins with a capitalized “Kai,” showing the great importance of Jesus “bringing word, speaking, or commanding,” which does not need to mean he was simply adding to what he had said about planting and harvesting in what he said next about the mustard seed. The capitalization of “Kai” would be an indication [to me] that this was a subsequent lesson taught to his disciples, after he had given them time to reflect on what he had said prior. This means the Greek word “elegen” indicates more said on the same topic, but at another time past.


This concept is supported [in my mind] by Jesus using another parable that will explain “How shall we liken the kingdom that of God.” By posing that as a question, just as he did before using the prior parable, this says another reading has brought forth a question about the “kingdom that of God,” from another reading from Scripture.


It should be realized that Jesus and the disciples he taught were not ‘once a week’ followers of a religion. Just as Yahweh had Moses take His children away from the hustle and bustle of big city distractions, out into the wilderness, the point was to take them to a place where they could live their religion, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. Making one’s religion become one’s lifestyle takes a serious commitment [marriage to Yahweh]. So, the disciples reading Scripture might have taken place in synagogue on a Shabbat, but thought on that heard read aloud did not end there. This is a sorely missed devotion that Christianity fails to produce today.


Whereas the prior metaphor was a seed [“sporon”], here the new parable stated is of a “grain of mustard” [“kokkō sinapeōs”]. There a specific plant’s “seed” is indicated. Based on Jesus knowing he had already sown the parable seed that was of the “seed of thought,” that had led to the conclusion of a harvest, such that the new seeds would become the food of ministry. That idea having previously sown and gathered now needs to now be seen as a progression in development. The “mustard seed” becomes metaphor the repetition for that which was harvested, needing next to be planted.


Before, Jesus spoke of “a human being scattering seed on the ground,” which was a hint of himself have come from the “kingdom of God” to sow the seed of his ministry. Now, the “mustard seed” becomes the extension of Jesus’ ministry – after he has left the world physically – so the seeds become representative of the disciples. Jesus planted them, watched them grow to fruition, then harvested them [another metaphor here is the green figs from the House of Green Figs - Bethtphage]. The symbolism of the mustard seed says the apostles [once ripe - Pentecost] would be the smallest seeds of religion ever farmed.


In verse 32, Mark wrote “kai” three times, once each in the first three segments of words. Those are translated above to state: “when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches.” A better way to see the truth exposed comes when the use of “kai” is seen as markers of importance that needs to be discerned. This is, as previously done above, now show here as:


kai whenever it has been sewn ,

“it ascends kai becomes greater than all those garden plants ,

kai it acts young tender shoots great ,


By realizing Jesus was speaking in parable, so the metaphor of a mustard plant was not the point intended, reading the usage of “kai” as markers of importance in the metaphor opens these three segments up [with a better literal translation of the actual words written] to a remarkable set of revelations.


First, the Greek word “hotan,” when translated as “whenever,” prophesies all times in the future [and the past, future to Jesus] when apostles would be planted into new ministry.


Second, by translating “anabainei” as “it ascends” [rather than “it grows up”], the truth of a word that says “to go up, ascend, mount, rise” comes out as an apostle not being a normal human follower of religion. Instead, it has become spiritually “raised.” This usage is different than the prior use of “mēkynētai,” as “grow, extend, lengthen,” showing it was stating a change greater than simple human growth.


Third, when it is said an apostle is “greater than all those garden plants,” the “tree of life” in the Garden of Eden is that elevated state of existence.


Finally, the use of “poiei” as “it acts,” rather than “it produces,” makes the “Acts of the Apostles” the production of the smallest having grown high and mighty.


When the word “kladous” is read appropriately as “young tender shoots,” this gives an impression of those who have become the resurrections of Jesus, reborn anew in bodies of flesh. Jesus is the vine, while the bodies of flesh of those souls married to Yahweh become the “branches” extending the presence of the Son of man on earth. Because Jesus was the Christ, so all reborn as him will also be Anointed by the Father, those “branches” become the ministers of Christianity [all a Christ in marriage, thereby “in the name of Christ”]. This is then defining the true Church, which is all who only consume the fruit of the tree of life, never the tree of knowledge of good and evil. A true “branch” of Yahweh knows no evil, thus true apostles do not question the authority of the Spirit that becomes their Lord.


Finally, the words translated as the “birds of the air” [“peteina tou ouranou”] can be read as “winged that of heaven.” This is an “angel,” where the Greek word “angelos” means “messenger. In Hebrew terms, such "angels" would be deemed “elohim,” where the “messengers” of Yahweh are His gods. In that use of the lower-g “gods,” the meaning speaks of a soul [a self spirit] having married the Spirit of Yahweh, thereby becoming Holy through that merger or union. The Church is thereby the gathering of all such “elohim” as a most holy assembly of the Sons of Yahweh, all reborn as Jesus Christ.


As a Gospel reading chosen to be read on the third Sunday after Pentecost, during the Ordinary season that symbolizes one’s need to enter personal ministry to Yahweh, as His Son reborn, it should be seen that understanding the metaphor of parables is the foremost trait possessed by an apostle. By seeing the differences (as subtle as they might be) in these two parables, each speaking of the metaphor of the “kingdom of God,” one can see multiple questions can come from the faithful. One addresses the natural progression of belief changing into faith. The other addresses the expectation of ministry; while both say nothing relative to the “kingdom of God” is from selfish motivations.


The metaphor of growth is easily seen. The same comparison of plants can be made to human beings, as a soul is a seed that is planted in the physical plane and naturally [automatically] grows. Just as naturally, a soul in the flesh learns about what is believed to be good and what is believed to be bad. Natural growth means being fertilized by the tree of knowledge, which includes religion. Once one learns what religions says, it naturally wants to know what that said means. This is natural growth that leads most often to a failure to have one’s soul marry Yahweh and be reborn as Jesus Christ. This demands there be those who are resurrections of Jesus to teach the truth of meaning, so others can be led to the same self [soul] conclusions [not told what to believe, without question]. That failure to marry one's soul to Yahweh's Spirit leads to reincarnation, so a soul gets replanted in the soil of the earth, season after season – life after life. The only way to escape that cycle of failure is to be harvested as good seed, then be planted into ministry so others can be produced as wives of Yahweh. Unfortunately, few priests today know that is the message all “elohim” should see and pass along.