What Does It Mean? [Sermon]

What do broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, and kohlrabi have in common?

They are all the same plant.

Well, they’re all the same species, but different varieties.

Just as there are different varieties of roses, petunias, apples, or pears, so there are different varieties of this plant, bred to produce more edible flowers, leaves, or stems.

It’s as if this one little plant has taken over gardens and farms all over the world.

Let’s go to God in prayer.

God of wisdom, may the words that I speak, and the ways they are received by each of our hearts and minds, help us to continue to grow into the people, and the church, that you have dreamed us to be.

Amen.

The parables in today’s reading are also found in the 13th chapter of Matthew and the 8th and 13th chapter of Luke. So they must be important.

But then it says

With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it;

he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

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AND THE EXPLANATION DOESN’T APPEAR IN MARK!

If we look at Matthew 13 verses 18 to 23, we find an explanation for the parable of the sower:

18 “Hear, then, the parable of the sower.
19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy,
21 yet such a person has no root but endures only for a while,
and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away.
22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of this age and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing.
23 But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

The parable of the sower is also explained in the 8th chapter of Luke.

For those who subscribe to the theory that Matthew and Luke shared two common sources:

Mark and another source called Q, short for Quelle,

it shouldn’t be surprising that Matthew and Luke both have an explanation for the parable of the sower.

But there’s no explanation of the parable of the mustard seed.

What do we do with that?

Well, if I were interpreting the Hebrew scriptures, I have several guides to use.

One is from Deuteronomy 6:4-5:

4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.

5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

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Another is from Leviticus 19:15-18:

15 “‘Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.

16 “‘Do not go about spreading slander among your people. “‘Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the Lord.

17 “‘Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt.

18 “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.

The third is in Matthew and Mark. I’m going to read it from Mark 12:28-34:

28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him,

“Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this:

‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’

31The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

32 “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him.

33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.

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Another is from the Babylonian Talmud, a set of writings by Jewish rabbis around the first century.

Part of Shabbat 31a:

There was another incident involving one gentile who came before Shammai and said to Shammai:

Convert me on condition that you teach me the entire Torah while I am standing on one foot.

Shammai pushed him away with the builder’s cubit in his hand.

This was a common measuring stick and Shammai was a builder by trade.

The same gentile came before Hillel. He converted him and said to him:

That which is hateful to you do not do to another; that is the entire Torah,

and the rest is its interpretation. Go study.

In Matthew 7:12, Jesus is quoted as saying

“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

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A shorter version is in Luke 6:31.

So in the Hebrew scriptures, in the Talmud, and in the words of Jesus himself, we find guides to both the Law and the Prophets that says that love for God and for neighbor are the two most important lessons, and caring for others as one cares for one’s self is the basis for those teachings.

This is exceptionally helpful when we come across problematic parts of scripture where we might think the text is encouraging us to harm others.

But can we apply these guides to the teachings of Jesus?

Well, Jesus was not a Christian. Christianity came later.

Jesus was a Jewish teacher who was alive during the life of Hillel, the teacher the Talmud passage mentioned, and may have even studied with him.

So I think we can use the teachings of Jesus and other Jewish teachers to illuminate what Jesus taught.

But HOW do these guides help us to interpret the parable of the mustard seed?

How is it a parable we can use for the Kingdom of God?

What if that mustard seed is love? What if just the tiniest seed of love can grow into something large? What if that large thing becomes a shelter where others can rest?

That’s just one way of reading this parable, but it’s an interpretation based on our guides.

Incidentally, the mustard seed to which Jesus is referring is a closely related species to the wild mustard from which we bred varieties that became broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, and kohlrabi.

So that is another way that we can see that a humble plant can become useful in many different expressions. And there are also many different expressions of love, many ways of loving neighbors.

So my challenge this week is for each of us to be mindful of how we live out the commandments to love God and to love others, and how we can care for others as we care for ourselves.

That is the whole of the teaching. The rest is its application.

Go and study.

Amen.


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