Faith and the Mustard Forest

 Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”   ~Mark 4:30-4:32

Jesus said it, so it must be true.  But have you seen a mustard seed?  It’s not that small.  And have you seen a mustard plant?  It’s not that big. It’s one of the parables I’ve glossed over, keeping the big-picture in mind and suspending my tendency to want scientific proof to back up everything I read. 

Except I have found that when you gloss over these things they don’t go away, they wedge like weeds in the back of your mind.  Waiting.  They wait for the water to find them, the moisture of discontent and life circumstances and weak will to seep in and germinate them, these weed-seeds of doubt.  And although I never meant for them to grow, they do.

But Jesus said it, and it is true, and Truth does stand up to even the most careful scrutiny.  And so I have learned to look.  To research, to turn every stone and not to stop until my heart is satisfied….and I am blessed, every time, with much more than a lack of doubt.  Scientific fact will never replace faith, assurance about what we do not see. But each time I seek to understand more fully, the space where doubt lived is filled to overflowing with grace, with hope, with Truth and with a deeper understanding that leaves me breathless, hungry for more.  With each dive deeper into this sustenance called The Word I find faith, like a mustard seed, increasing within me, choking out the weeds and I find the courage to delve deeper into each mystery because yes, the Truth does stand and yes, the harder I look the more He speaks. And yes, some times faith is a blind thing. A walking in the dark thing, a clinging tightly with all you have thing.  But the Word?  It opens the blind eye, it speaks in the darkness, it holds you so that when your grip loosens and you expect to plunge downward, you find that He was holding on to you, your grip was never meant to hold you up because He was holding you all the time.

So, the mustard seed?  Though not so small, was the smallest seed in that time and in that place.  Jesus spoke then to a crowd who would have planted nothing smaller.  And the mustard tree?  The fields of small, yellow flowers we think of here and now are not the same.  Black mustard was the plant the Lord referred to, and it grew.  In a land where water was scarce and most trees were not that tall, Black Mustard would grow to heights of over 3 meters…12 feet.  If left for years, these shrubs could become giants, branching over fields and providing a perfect place for birds to perch, sway. And as far as a garden plant goes, you would not see one any bigger in your vegetable patch. Jesus said it, and it’s true.

And, like the mustard seed, when I searched with the smallest faith that said this is true, and I want to know why I found something take root that grew much bigger than my doubt.  I found that, beyond the vertical heights of the black mustard plants, there was something else.  There was this:  Tenacity.  These plants, they don’t grow only skyward.  They propagate, setting their small seeds out far and wide, running their yellow blooms down hillside and across field.  They reach and spread.  They cover the bare earth with nodding, yellow light.  And once it takes root, it is very hard to weed out.  It can take years of tenacious effort to uproot a field of black mustard, for once it has established it grows to a forest meters tall.  From a website outlining how to eliminate an unwanted field of established Black Mustard, here is a description of a “Black Mustard forest”:

The destruction of a thriving forest may not seem like a fitting pursuit for restorationists, but that was our obsession when we began work on San Onofre Beach in 1994. The forest was a single-species stand of exotic Black Mustard (Brassica nigra). Normally only waist-high, this “forest” was two meters in height, with occasional ” forest veterans” nearly three meters tall. This widespread southern California weed had a nearly unbreakable hold on the open ground between remnant patches of coastal sage scrub on the coastal bluff. The high fertility, both natural and from agricultural chemicals, brought dense stands of mustard exploding out of the ground every year……Black mustard has all the attributes of a successful weed, including rapid growth, copious seed production, and independence from mycorrhizal fungi. Under the mustard canopy was an understory of more mustard, and the supply of seeds was nearly infinite. The fertile soil was of little use to native plants, which are adapted for the low-nutrient conditions of a natural ecosystem. The mustard, on the other hand, was able to take full advantage of the fertility. Any hapless native that might germinate under the mustard was hopelessly outmatched in growth rate and competition for water and sunlight.  (www.sanfoundation.org

Could we, with our tiny mustard-seed faith, be meant to grow a forest?  Could our faith catch on like wildfire, spread miles of burning yellow flowers dancing in the wind? Could it grow to heights suitable for birds to nest, provide shelter and sustanence to living things in need of home?  Could it become a live thing, an ecosystem of grace and protection and love?  Could it overshadow the evil in this world, grow faster than the pain, replace bare soil with deep roots to fight the erosion of the soul?

 I find this thought:  Our faith, however small, may plant those tiny seeds and they may grow.  That one small seed, the lowliest of all, might start a forest that spreads and grows and roots itself deeply in the soil of hearts…to be spread outward, in ways we may never know this side of Heaven.

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