Tag Archives: mustard seed

Fractured Fairy Tales of the Kingdom

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading

Four days ago, June Foray died at the age of 99. You probably don’t recognize her name, but you just might recognize her voice—at least if you are of a certain age! You see, she was the voice of a whole host of cartoon characters in “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show,” which was popular when I was a child. I bring this up for a couple of reasons. First, I was particularly fond of that cartoon. And second, “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show” gives us some insight into today’s Gospel. You see, a regular feature of that cartoon was a segment called “Fractured Fairy Tales.” In it, they would retell a well-known fairy tale, but then give it an unexpected twist. You just never knew how the “fractured fairy tale” was going to end. I think that Jesus’ parables are like the fractured fairy tales of “Rocky and Bullwinkle.” They all have some kind of twist to them.

Consider the well-known parable of the mustard seed. We are told that someone planted a mustard seed in his field, which according to the parable is the smallest of all seeds. But in reality, the orchid seed is smaller than the mustard seed. Next, we are told that the mustard seed grows into a tree and the birds of the air nest in its branches. This is even more problematic than the error about the mustard seed’s size. For mustard bushes simply don’t grow to the size of trees, and the branches are too flimsy to support bird nests. So what are we to make of this impossible parable? Here’s what I think: Jesus knew very well that mustard bushes weren’t trees, but he wanted his audience to suspend their disbelief for a moment…to imagine the impossible. For if we can imagine that the mustard seed is the smallest of seeds and then imagine that it can grow into a large tree and provide nesting for birds, then and only then are we ready to imagine what the Kingdom of Heaven is like.

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Of Seeds and Slaves, of Faith and Favor

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading

 In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

This coming Tuesday is the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of this city. And some Episcopal churches in town are using the readings for St. Francis’ feast day, instead of the regularly prescribed readings for this Sunday. One motivation might be to give greater honor to our city’s patron. But I suspect there may be another motivation: to avoid preaching on this Sunday’s readings! Today’s Gospel reading is particularly difficult, even a bit offensive. But, in my humble opinion, that is all the more reason for wrestling with it, instead of avoiding it!

The Gospel story seemingly starts with the apostles’ demanding that Jesus grant them more faith. But really, this is the middle of the story. The lectionary omits the beginning. It turns out that what evoked this response from the apostles was a teaching on forgiveness. Jesus had just told them, “If the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.” It’s when the apostles hear this that they ask the Lord for help, crying out, “Add to our faith!” And who can blame them! Forgiving may very well be the hardest thing that followers of Jesus are asked to do, and it takes faith to sustain a life of forgiveness.

3-mustard-seed-sproutingIn the English translation we heard read today, Jesus prefaces his response with the words: “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed….” The translators have tried to fix what they see as a grammatical error in the Greek. But by doing this, they give a wrong impression that this is an instance of what grammarians call “a condition contrary to fact.” Paraphrasing, Jesus seems to be saying, “If you had even the smallest amount of faith, which unfortunately you haven’t, you would be able to do great things.” The clear implication is that the disciples are faithless.

But a more accurate rendering from the Greek would be “If you have faith like a mustard seed…” Note the two differences from the translation we heard read. First, by using the word have, instead of had, Jesus implies no lack of faith in his listeners. The condition that Jesus proposes may, in fact, be factual. Second, Jesus never mentions the size of the mustard seed. He speaks of having “faith like a mustard seed”? Paraphrasing, Jesus is saying, “If you have the kind of faith that can sprout and grow like a mustard seed, which you may very well have, then you will be able to do great things.”

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