Timeless truth in a changing world



What We Can Learn from a Mustard Seed


When I was a girl, I had a bracelet with a mustard seed in it. The mustard seed was enclosed within a clear ball, like a marble. The seed itself was tiny, a visual reminder of Jesus’ mention of the mustard seed. Indeed, the mustard seed has become symbolic of faith. Yesterday was LWML Sunday, and the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League is known, among other things, for their “Mustard Seed” devotionals. Many times we think of Jesus’ words in Matthew 17:20, where He says, “‘Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.’” Oftentimes the implied question is this: do you have that kind of faith? But there’s another mustard seed reference in the Gospels. Matthew, Mark and Luke all record the parable of the mustard seed, which has a completely different nuance. Instead of likening one’s faith to a mustard seed, this time Jesus is talking about the kingdom of heaven, a far broader scope that places the action solely upon Him.

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One of the things I love about Jesus’ parables is how unbelievable some of them are. He throws in so many unexpected twists and characters that there’s no possible way some of those parables could ever actually happen. A man who sells all he has to get one pearl? Sure. The story of the workers in the vineyard, where the owner pays the guys who worked one hour the same thing he paid the guys who worked 12 hours? Never going to happen in the real world. Imagine pitching, say, “The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant” as a TV show idea. Um, yeah, we can’t use this. Sorry, but it’s just too far-fetched. This guy’s debt is unrealistic, and there’s no way the king would just cancel it all because he asked him to. And then for him to be such a jerk to his fellow worker regarding his small debt is completely ridiculous. Give us something people can believe. But here’s the thingthis story has happened. And you’re one of the main characters.

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Commending Dishonesty?

I’ve always wondered about the parable of the shrewd (or “dishonest,” depending on translation) manager from Luke 16:1-9.  That sentence at the end is so bizarre“I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” Um, what? What in the world is that supposed to mean? That doesn’t sound like something Jesus would really say, especially as a summary of the parable. And unlike some of His other parables like the parable of the sower, Jesus doesn’t take His disciples aside and explain things to them privately afterward. We’re sort of just left to figure it out on our own. So again, what does it mean?

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