02. The Mustard Seed

Blessed is the man who has not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, and has not stood in the way of sinners, and has not sat in the seat of scorners. But his delight is only in the Law of Jehovah, and he meditates in His Law day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivulets of waters, which will give its fruit in its seasons, and its leaf will not wither, and all which he does will prosper. Not so are the wicked, but they are only as chaff which the wind drives about. On account of this the wicked shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. For Jehovah is knowing the way of the righteous, and the way of the wicked shall perish. (Psalm 1:1-6)

He put another parable before them, saying: The kingdom of Heaven is compared to a grain of mustard, which taking, a man sowed in his field; which indeed is less than all the seeds, but when it is grown it is greater than the plants, and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the heaven come and roost in its branches. (Matthew 13:31-35)

We saw last time in our look into the parable of the Wheat and The Tares, that we must come to a level of acceptance and trust in the Lord in this thing called the spiritual life. That while we are called to make our life a life of self-examination and repentance, we must also come to realise that all that we see within us that stands opposed to the spiritual life, the tares if you like, cannot always be removed from us when we would like them to be removed. That some things must remain and will be attended to in the Lord’s own time for he alone has the wisdom that can look to our eternal welfare and so knows what must be done at every point of our spiritual progress. In this we saw that we are to avoid being too hard on ourselves – that the Lord doesn’t ask from us an impossible level of perfection, nor will He seek to have us burdened under guilt that arises from a false conscience. All that is required of us is to remain in the effort to examine our motives, looking to the Lord to strengthen us in what is good. If we do this we will be being brought into those states He desires for us, step by step. Our job is simply to acknowledge Him and do our best to obey Him – if we are doing this then we give Him leave to do whatever He will with our life.

And so we come to another of what are known as the parables of the kingdom, and it is the parable of the Grain of Mustard. This parable begins with the idea of something small growing to fill a much larger capacity than it did in its original form. The parable of the mustard seed is like the wheat of the first parable we looked at as it too is taken up by a man to be sowed in his field. The man is the Lord as the Word, the seed is our grasp of truth, and the field is the human mind into which the Lord sows the seed.

This man who sowed the seed in Greek is call anthropos and is better translated Human or if we look to a very literal translation we have the term ‘human-faced‘. This term in the context of this and the last parable, is wonderfully apt in its association with the Lord – for He alone presents to us the human face of God. That face is one of love, mercy and compassion; it is God in a form we can connect with, without fear, without guilt. This is the face of God that Divine truth or the Word reveals to us, it is the face of the kingdom of heaven itself and it says, – Come, come to me you who are burdened and I will give you rest.

But when and where has this man gone forth to sow this smallest of seeds in the depths of the human heart? Well, the Lord is forever taking care to see that the seeds of the kingdom are implanted in every person. Every contact we have ever had that has been an expression of care, concern, of love, friendship, of loyalty, every prompting to act on what is just and true and fair, all the millions of impressions that flow from people and the world that give us a sense of being looked after regardless of where or who they come from – this is the Great Man going forth taking the smallest and seemingly most insignificant things of life to sow in His field, in our minds, a seed. We so easily forget that the Lord is in the smallest details of every person’s life – and as we have commented on before, in the economy of the kingdom of heaven, these small things are the big things.

The smallest act of kindness has the power to turn lives and situations around. These make up the human face of God, through which he is able to touch our hearts and bring a little compassion into the world. The Lord in saying that He takes the smallest of seeds, teaches us that by attending to the smallest things in our limited world of influence, from a spirit of genuine love, big things can happen. Changes can occur in people’s lives, and even those things in our own lives. What seem to be the big obstacles, can be overcome. Nothing is impossible for God, the Lord tells us, for to Him all things are possible.

Living in the kingdom of heaven is living in the world of great possibilities, of living in an atmosphere of great potential. The Lord has sowed into our lives greater potential than we can ever imagine. We look and we see a small insignificant seed – a grain of seemingly such little worth – but in the Lord’s eyes there is so much more than a tiny grain, for Him this is, in potential, the greatest of the herbs. For when mature we see that it takes the form of a tree in which the birds of the air can come and roost and find a place of rest.

The growing tree is a symbol for the maturation of ideas in the mind which are symbolised by seeds. We use this in our language often when we talk of planting ideas into someone’s mind; a common phrase is that of planting seeds of doubt. We also speak of people as having a fertile imagination when they allow their minds to run with an idea. The kingdom of heaven is often linked to seeds because it begins with ideas that can grow into principles which are able to empower us to live useful lives, conscious of the laws that govern a spiritual life of genuine charity.

Ideas that have their origin in the kingdom of heaven are small from our perspective because being natural we tend to place more importance on the things of the world, on natural things, affections and relationships. And so our experience of the spiritual life now, while we live in this world involves a struggle to give spiritual things a priority. The big things for us are so often the things of natural life, and the small things are those to do with the spiritual life. We only need to look at where we put our energies and focus our attention to see what we tend to value most. Yet the wonderful teaching here is that even the smallest amount of effort in making what is spiritual a priority in our lives, can become something great. The Lord can take the smallest intention we make to bring the truth we know into an act of love and see that it grows into something able to give support to the “birds of the air.”

This growth of the least of seeds into the greatest of the herbs is a correspondence that illustrates for us our own spiritual growth and development. Every person is born into the world a natural man. This is the part of us that we call “ourselves”, the “I” or “me”, and it is like the outer skin of the seed which eventually will fall away as the new sense of self, that is based on an acknowledgment of the Lord as our life, grows from within. The internal of every man is the Lord’s for He is the giver of all life but this sits dormant within us in potential only until the seed is given what it needs to germinate. The essential elements required for the growth of this seed into a herb can only happen as we apply truths from the Word (water and light) and work with them so that our loves can be reformed (heat). The specific nutrients which the plant needs are given as the Word reforms our natural world memories and experiences that are unique to our daily life conditions. Through the practice of self examination in the light of the principles of Spiritual Christianity, our minds can become organised into a form that is better able to express something of the kingdom of heaven in all the useful activities we have presented to us each day. And so the seed grows into the fullness of its life a herb, as a plant.

People are often compared to trees in the Word, which are also plants. From the Psalm we read earlier we see this, when we act from our understanding of truth from the Word with a view to being useful to others, we are like a tree planted beside rivers of waters, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf does not whither, so that whatever is done will prosper. To love the law of the Lord is to live from the Word, for when we do this we grow and develop in the order of the kingdom of heaven; it is such a life that brings forth fruit in its season. Fruit is the product of a person’s life; fruit in season is having the right responses in and for the right moment.

A person whose delight is in the Word is carried in the stream of the Lord’s providential care, which ensures that all things are right for whatever state of life we are in, in any given moment of our lives. So, we need to be careful when we look at our life, thinking perhaps that in some situation we lacked the fruit appropriate for the moment. The problem with this is that we often focus on when our responses appear to be inappropriate, and anything but heavenly, and forget the thousands of interactions engaged in over the course of our day, which we don’t even give a second thought to, that contribute to the welfare of those around us. These are the small things which collectively make up the greatest thing of all, the very presence of the Lord in our midst caring for them and nurturing them. And others’ actions impact on us in the same way. How like heaven this is! No big fanfare, no attention seeking, just a quiet getting on with what needs doing.

More often than not we remain unconscious of this activity, but it’s encouraging to remind ourselves every now and then that all good is from the Lord whether we are aware of this or not in our interactions with others. And that we don’t have to be conscious of the Lord to have Him working through us. That it is enough that we take the time to cultivate a love for His Word and a desire to live from it for Him to order everything we do in a way that contributes to the coming of the kingdom of heaven within us and so through us, He is able to touch others anonymously. The hells seek to use our perceived short comings to throw our perspective out, so that we fall into a pit of self-loathing, self-pity and guilt. They seek to undermine our quality of life by getting us to focus on where think we have failed. We need to be reminded that what the hells turn into a “big thing” is tiny in the face of the good that flows in from heaven which is gently and quietly influencing and drawing all whose hearts are open towards the Lord.

If we are the seed that is planted, that grows into a herb as we commit our lives to the search for spiritual truths, that further matures into a tree that produces fruit as we look to the Lord to live in the good that truth teaches – then the birds that are supported by such a life must also correspond to something internal. In fact, this is more clearly seen in a very literal translation of the phrase “birds of the air” which literally reads the “flying things (wings) of the heavens.” The things that fly and are heavenly represent spiritual ideas by which our sense of ourselves can be lifted out of the things belonging to the natural world and into things of a much higher spiritual quality. To have the “birds of the air” in our branches is to provide support for spiritual truths in our minds, through our desire for living a useful life in keeping with the principles of the Word . These truths offer concepts that can lift our life into a sense of the Lord’s presence in the small and simple states of goodness that envelop us every day.

We can also apply this idea of the mustard seed to the parable itself. For in these words is a simple story, on the surface the smallest of seeds, but as we have looked at this story and seen something of what it contains spiritually, so our understanding of it has grown to become a tree in our mind and in its branches, we see nested there a principle of the kingdom of heaven. This principle is like one of the birds of the air that can form the wings of heaven for us.

So, if you find yourself being drawn into a sense of failure, or self-condemnation that separates you from others or a sense of the Lord’s presence in your life, then remember that from a spiritual perspective the good we don’t see far out-weighs the evils we do see. We can remind ourselves that if we look to the Word as the source for our wisdom by applying its truths in our life, then the Lord will do wonder things with even the smallest of seeds that He has implanted.

….in general, whatever appears in heaven has precisely the same appearance as the things which exist in our material world in its three kingdoms; and such things appear before the eyes of the angels in just the same way as the things of the three kingdoms appear before the eyes of men in the world. There appear there gold, silver, copper, tin, lead, stones precious and not precious, soil, lands, mountains, hills, valleys, waters, fountains, and other things of the mineral kingdom. There appear paradises, gardens, forests, fruit trees of every kind, lawns, fields of grain, meadows filled with flowers, plants, and grasses of every kind; also things produced from these, as oils, wines, strong drinks, and other things of the vegetable kingdom. There appear animals of the earth, flying things of heaven, fishes of the sea, creeping things, and these of every kind, and so much like those on our earth that they cannot be distinguished. I have seen them, and could see no difference.
[2] Still there is this difference, that the things seen in heaven are from a spiritual origin, but those seen in our world are from a material origin; and things from a spiritual origin affect the senses of the angels because their senses are spiritual, as those from a material origin affect the senses of men because they are material. For spiritual things are homogeneous with spiritual beings, and material things are homogeneous with material beings. It is said that they are from a spiritual origin because they exist from the Divine that proceeds from the Lord as a sun; and the Divine proceeding from the Lord as a sun is spiritual. For the sun there is not fire, but is the Divine love, which appears before the eyes of angels as the sun of the world appears before the eyes of men; and whatever proceeds from the Divine love is Divine and is spiritual. That which proceeds appears in general as light, and is felt as heat; and yet that light as well as the heat is spiritual. For that light is the Divine wisdom, and is called the Divine truth, and that heat is the Divine love, and is called the Divine good, consequently that light inwardly enlightens the understanding of angels, and that heat inwardly fills the will of angels with the good of love. From that origin are all things that exist in the heavens; and they appear in forms like those in our world in its three kingdoms, as has been said above. Their appearing in such forms is according to the order of creation, which is that when the things pertaining to the wisdom of angels and to their love descend into the lower sphere in which angels are as to their bodies and their bodily sensations they are manifested in such forms and types. These are correspondences. (Apocalypse Explained 926)

That the gentiles equally with Christians are saved, anyone can see who knows what it is that makes heaven in man; for heaven is within a man, and those who have heaven within them come into heaven. Heaven in a man is acknowledging the Divine and being led by the Divine. The first and chief thing of every religion is to acknowledge the Divine. A religion that does not acknowledge the Divine is not a religion. The precepts of every religion look to worship, thus to the way in which the Divine is to be worshipped that the worship may be acceptable to Him; and when this has been settled in one’s mind, that is, so far as one wills this or so far as he loves it, to that extent he is led by the Lord. Everyone knows that the gentiles as well as Christians live a moral life, and many of them a better life than Christians. Moral life may be lived either for the sake of the Divine or for the sake of men in the world; and a moral life that is lived for the sake of the Divine is a spiritual life. In outward form the two appear alike, but in inward form they are entirely different; the one saves a man, the other does not. For he who lives a moral life for the sake of the Divine is led by the Divine; while he who leads a moral life for the sake of men in the world is led by himself. (Heaven and Hell 319)

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