In life I have always identified with things that are small. I think this is why as a kids I always liked David. Yeah, I know, everyone likes David, but for me it was the fact that he was not the biggest, but he could still do great things that inspired me at times when I might have wanted to give up, not to. Over and over throughout the gospels Jesus uses the image of a mustard seed.
It is funny because many will come back and say that Jesus was anti science, but the use of the mustard seed goes hand-in-hand with the scientific knowledge that they had in the time. It was known, though in crude ways, that seeds contained the basics that would allow it to grow. Of all the seeds, the mustard seed, being the smallest, contained the most potential of all, since the bush that would result would be huge!
The mustard seed not only adds a spice to life, but it provides a home to the birds and other creatures. In a way, here is Christ recognizing the power of the seed and the recognition that the purpose of the seed is much more than just being a tree. Connected to that is the story of the woman who makes bread with yeast. That the flour, interacts with the yeast (another small thing) to increase the size of the dough making it more than it otherwise would be.
He gives two other images in the pericope. The first is about the (small) treasures in the (big) field and being able to use that treasure for great rewards. The second is about finding the finest pearl, another small thing that would bring great wealth.
Lastly, he gives a known example of net fishing. When you net fish there is no discrimination about what you catch, but not everything is good and you have to throw some back. Well, again, of all the numbers of fish, only a small amount would be worthy to sell, and the others would be tossed back or thrown out.
All of this is to give an image of what will happen at the end of times. Those who will be saved will take the core of what there was prior to Christ’s coming (the small seed, the yeast, the treasure, the pearl), and will combine with the lessons of Christ and will become something much greater than one could ever imagine, just like it is hard to imagine a huge bush or tree coming from a tiny mustard seed.
I think in Modern Christianity this has a lot to do with our faith and struggles. While Christ was talking to a Jewish community who had the teachings behind them I like to think for us today most people have an idea of faith that we need to nourish and grow. We do this through our communities and we do this through our openness to faith.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen