Monthly Archives: May 2015

The Parables of the Mustard Seed & the Leaven

The Parables of the Mustard Seed & the Leaven are two short parables from Matthew 13 about the humble beginnings of the Kingdom of God.

The mustard seed was known in the ancient world for its proverbial small size. The seed Jesus had in mind may have been the black mustard plant, which can grow to 10 feet. The leaven the woman worked into the dough would have made enough bread for 100-150 people.

The parables have been understood as referring to the church, individuals, or Jesus’ life. The commentaries I rely on claim their original focus was on Jesus’ ministry. According to Klyne Snodgrass, the Parable of the Mustard Seed “pictures the presence of the kingdom in Jesus’ own ministry, even if others do not recognize it, and Jesus’ expectation of the certain full revelation of the kingdom to come” (Stories with Intent, p. 222).

The application I take from the parables is that the smallest things we do for the Kingdom can bear unexpected fruit. Snodgrass again: “We should expect and implement ‘mustard seed’ thinking, neither disparaging insignificance nor doubting what God can do and does do with small beginnings.… If people are given over to God’s purposes, small beginnings still come to fruition. God seems to be about the business of leavening—magnifying—what seems insignificant” (Stories with Intent, pp. 227, 235).


Naomi was out of town during this lesson so I have none of her original artwork to share. I did find some other art on these parables, but they seem less popular subjects than many other parables.

Parable of the Mustard Seed art:

Parable of the Leaven art:

David McCoy’s The Kingdom Is pictures six different parables from Matthew 13.


And Jesus Said (Selah) includes six songs related to the Parables of the Mustard Seed and Leaven. We chose two of them: “O My Garden” (AJS #21) and “The Kingdom of God Grows Silently” (AJS #19).

“O My Garden,” set to CHARLESTOWN, takes the perspective of the gardener marveling at the growth of the mustard seed.

“O my garden” says the gardener,
“how the mustard seed has grown!
so much more than I imagined,
now it crowds all I have sown.”

“The Kingdom of God Grows Silently” (lyrics by Joy Patterson, music by Amanda Husberg) is my favorite parable hymn and one of two—along with “Where Is the Kingdom” (AJS #1)—we sang most weeks in class. The first two stanzas liken the Kingdom to a mustard seed and to rising yeast. The third pictures the people of God watching eagerly for the Kingdom to appear. Here is the first stanza and chorus:

The Kingdom of God grows silently, silently
like a small mustard seed grows in the earth,
sprouting and pushing its way toward day’s clarity
soon a plant tall as a tree comes to birth.

The Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of God
has come, and now is, and is coming to be
the Kingdom of God fulfills on the earth
God’s visions of justice and peace.

This is the second post in a series about our Parables of Jesus Sunday school class. In each post, I make a few observations about the parable, share Naomi Friend’s original artwork she drew during our class, post links to other art about the parable, and share our favorite songs about the parable. The previous post was on the Parable of the Sower.

The Parable of the Sower

Jesus proclaimed the Good News with dramatic stories drawn from the stuff of everyday life: planting, baking, tending livestock, fishing, weddings, family conflict, crime. I’m starting a series of posts on our Sunday school class about these stories—the Parables of Jesus.

Building on our Minor Prophets class, we designed the Parables class to include both art and music. Naomi Friend returned as our artist-in-residence and James Slegers became our musical director.

We also moved into a new class room, which we decorated with Naomi’s Minor Prophets art.


I’ll make a separate post about how we organized the class, but what I’m going to do in each parable post is to say a bit about the parable, share Naomi’s drawing, link to other artwork based on the parable, and list the songs we sang.

The Kingdom Parables in Matthew 13 (at the center of the book) are one of the highlights of Jesus’ teaching: seven stories he uses to describe the Kingdom of God. The Parable of the Sower is about hearing the message of the Kingdom, describing four different responses to the message—each represented by the outcome of seed scattered by a farmer—and ending with the admonition “Whoever has ears, let them hear.” In the language of the parable: be good soil.

The parable is one of only two with a title given in the text and one of only three that Jesus explains. Jesus also uses the parable, in response to a question from the disciples, to explain why he teaches in parables. Quoting Isaiah 6, Jesus predicts that his proclamation of the Kingdom will result in hardened hearts, but tells the disciples they are blessed by their hearing.

I’m struck by the generosity of the sower. He scatters the seed widely, not just in places where it seems likely it will take root, but also in places where it seems unlikely to. He displays a patience like that seen in the Parable of the Wheat and Weeds, which also features a farmer willing to wait for harvest.


Naomi’s depicts the sower as a contemporary farmer in overalls and a ball cap, but sowing seed by hand. He sows on a path (with birds), stony places (at far left), thorns, and good soil. As always, Naomi made her drawing during during our hour-long class in dialogue with class members.

 More art

During each class, we also looked at other parables artwork. Here are some best examples I found online:

Nine more examples of Sower artwork can be found at Sacred Art Meditations.


Each week in our class we sang songs related to the parable. Many of these are from And Jesus Said: Parables in Song (Sela Publishing), which contains 55 songs based on parables. A second good source is the CRC/Faith Alive hymnal Singing the New Testament, which contains songs based on various New Testament passages.

The two Sower songs we sang were “Where Is the Kingdom” (AJS #1) and “Lord, Let My Heart Be Good Soil” (SNC #79).

“Lord, Let My Heart Be Good Soil,” a 2002 hymn by Handt Hanson, can be found in Sing! A New Creation. (The tune is here.) The song is a prayer that our own hearts will be like the good soil of the parable:

Lord, let my heart be good soil,
open to the seed of your Word.
Lord, let my heart be good soil,
where love can grow and peace is understood.

“Where Is the Kingdom” is the opening song in And Jesus Said and contains references to around a dozen parables. It’s set to the tune of  BUNESSAN (“Morning Has Broken”). We used it regularly as an opening song for the class. (And Jesus Said includes five other Parable of the Sower songs so there are plenty to choose from.)

Up next: More Kingdom Parables from Matthew 13—The Parables of the Mustard Seed and the Yeast.