Mustard

Matt.13:31-49

When I was a child in the 1930s, I would occasionally get a deep chest cold and rattle like a horse. Just when I thought I was going to die, my mother would proclaim, “You need a mustard plaster.”

She would go into the kitchen, take out a box of dried mustard powder, put two tablespoons in a bowl and make a paste. Then she would cut a square of flannel from an old nightshirt and spread the mustard on the cloth. The mustard flannel would be held in place by a couple of safety pins to my pajama top, and I would be told to sleep on my back. After about eight hours of sleep, I would awaken with the congestion broken and be on the path to recovery. Was this a miracle cure for the inner body? Doubters will say no. At the very least, something was done, I felt better, and I lived. (A side effect is that I have no hair on my chest, but that may be coincidental.)

Mustard not only had medicinal uses, it was important as a spice. It gave a zing to life, quickened the taste buds, and enhanced certain foods. No one has ever equaled my mother’s special mustard sauce that went with the Easter ham.

Now, Jesus knew about spices and about basic cooking and baking, just as he knew the elemental details about farming and trading. He knew about mustard, and he used it as a metaphor for the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus reminds us that although the mustard seed is very small, from this seed there grows a large bush, which eventually becomes a tree in which birds roost. Within that tiny seed there is incredible potentiality. There is a latent future, nascent capacity for growth. There is form and color and strength and pungency. There is that which can give zest to life, that which has curative, medicinal, and restorative power. There is that which can give protection from the harshness and the storms of life, and that which can provide a home even for the birds of the air. All of this is implicit and explicit in the mustard seed as a metaphor for the Kingdom of Heaven.

In using this metaphor, also found in Ezek. and Dan., Jesus is saying more than “good things come in small packages.” He tells us that the Kingdom of Heaven is part and parcel of the power and will of God. Like the nascent power of the mustard seed, God’s kingdom is not only in the future; it is in the here and now. Like the tree which the seed becomes, His Kingdom stands against the harsh elements of death and destruction in the world. For people of faith, His kingdom, protects, shelters, and is our refuge and our home. Amen.