Monthly Archives: April 2011

Audience is Key, The Parable of the Mustard Seed

There is a problem with the parable of the mustard seed. Matthew 13:31-32

He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”

The problem: The mustard seed is not the smallest of all seeds.

The issue at hand: The smallest of all seeds is the coral root orchid seed. It is so small, you could barely see it without significant visual aids, non of which existed at the time said scripture was written. The smallest visually observable seed one might come across is the Wolffia, just slightly smaller than a single grain of salt.

Secondary problems of the smaller seeds: Folks dont plant wolffia, being its fruit is hardly larger than the seed itself… Likewise, folks dont plant orchid seeds, and even if they did, they wouldnt grow without a symbiotic partner.

So whats the deal? Jesus couldn’t very well jump into a botanical discussion of plants which could not be seen, or talk about tropical rain forests, or talk of a foreign land called Australia. Rather, he spoke the language of the people, within the context of what they could understand.

The Bottom line: The wonders of scripture and the mysterys of such are huge… when we try to force scripture into a domain and or context for which it was never intended, we can end up running in circles… and totally miss the point.

Jesus answers the disciples questions as to why the parables in Matthew 13:11-15… its a similar deal here.

11 He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12 Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables:

“Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand.

14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:

“‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
15 For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them

Jesus Throws a Wrench into Morality

Morality can be viewed through five difference windows, harm, reciprocity, ingroup, hierarchy, and purity. Such windows into a given moral worldview are pretty commonly described throughout the Old Testament. In contrast, I fully believe the words of Christ tend to reorganize and even cast significant aspects of such windows aside.

Having come across some really funky eisigesis in my noon readings today, where in the author tried to toss any number of Jesus teachings to the wind… I was left wondering why and how this can happen. In a lot of ways, I think the author was so tied into a specific moral world view, that he couldn’t tolerate what Jesus had to say. As such, the only way he could even listen to the message of Christ was to take some rather extreme eisegesis.

Lets roll on through some of the moral windows.

Harm/Welfare/Care

In the Old Testament times, folks were to set aside part of their tithe for the poor, likewise the harvest was not to be 100%, parts were to be set aside such that the poor could glean them. Jesus went much further, with his emphasis on individual service and blessings to the orphans, the widows, and the poor.

Justice/Rights/Fairness

Likewise, justice, rights, and fairness were also significant teachings of Jesus. His direct focus on the least of these, the prisoners, and the oppressed, no doubt threw many a wrench into the people that heard him. Yes, prophets in the OT preached justice time and time again, and Sodom was blown away for its lack of justice and concern for the poor… but still no one listened, much less acted.

Group Loyalty

Jesus aggravated the people of Israel in a huge way more than a few times. Folks wanted a revolutionary to rise up against the Romans… what they got was a revolution against their own. What they got was Jesus who crossed the lines to Romans, to Gentiles, and to Samaritans. For those he called, there was almost always a significant cost… they had to leave their group, their families, their wealth, their safety behind.

Respect for Authority, Hierarchy

Jesus upended this most spectacularly with his emphasis on service, and the inversion of rewards and the power structure, much to the chagrin of the leaders of that day. Likewise, he put many leaders and authorities in the hot seat time and time again.

Purity, Sexuality, Food, and Religious Law

Jesus likewise upended the purity laws, whether it be healing on the Sabbath, eating food on the Sabbath, or hanging out with those who would have been considered unclean. Most assuredly for those who had put a stake down in this sector of morality, Jesus must have been anathama to them being viewed as a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.” Yes, he did come down on divorce, and adultery… but he seemed to come down a whole lot harder on greed, and the religious laws and practices of the day.

The Eisegesis Guy Once Again

Getting back to the eisegesis guy… he put exceedingly high values on ingroup, hierarchy, and in some of his other writings on purity. With such an extreme focus in those arenas, its no wonder his worldview did not allow him to consider that Jesus would even speak of harm, much less justice in regards to morality.