12 October 2016

Matthew 13:31-35

“He put before them another parable ...” (v. 31)

Psalm: Psalm 26


Today's passage is in three sections. The first continues the agrarian theme from the previous parable with the image of a mustard seed representing the kingdom of heaven (verses 31-32). Whilst mustard might not be literally the smallest of seeds or the largest of plants, the contrast between the tiny seed and the shrub with the height of a couple of metres which grows from it is still apparent. The message is clear: from a tiny beginning something huge can and will develop.

A similar point is made by the next parable (verse 33). Again, Jesus draws on everyday experience though the details are surprising. The baker is producing a massive quantity of bread; only a small amount of yeast makes the difference. What is more, the yeast is concealed by the baker. Almost imperceptibly, the parable suggests, the kingdom of heaven works a difference in the world.

Matthew's Gospel then takes us back to the question that we saw explored in the parable of the sower: why did Jesus teach in parables (verses 34-35)? One of the key features of this Gospel is the use of texts from the Hebrew Bible to demonstrate that Jesus came to fulfil the Scriptures. In verse 35, although introduced as a quotation from "the prophet", the words appear to be from the opening lines of Psalm 78. Psalm 78 is recitation of the history of Israel. Though many of Matthew's citations of Scripture are made regardless of their original context, perhaps here it is worth noting that what the psalm celebrates is that God is and always has been active among God's people even when the people do not recognise God's presence.

To Ponder

  • The image of a mustard seed is often used for small things that have momentous results. What, if anything, can you think of like that in your experience?
  • The difference that something small can make is the theme of both parables. Many churches today feel that their resources are small. To what extent do we underestimate our potential to make a difference?
  • Matthew quotes the psalmist speaking about 'things unseen'. As you look back over your life, can you recall an episode when God was at work but you did not recognise God's presence at the time? If so, give thanks to God who works unseen. 

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Jonathan Hustler

Having been a Methodist circuit minister and a theological college tutor, Jonathan is now Ministerial Coordinator for Oversight of Ordained Ministries in the Connexional Team..