The Mustard Seed

Jesus tells two stories, two parables that focus on seeds as a way of speaking about the Kingdom of God.

Seeds are amazing. Just think of it, contained within that tiny rather hard fragment is all that is needed to produce entire plants and trees. Within that kernel is all the genetic information, all the instructions, all the raw material for abundant life, for fields of corn, acres of wheat, orchards of apple trees, the food to provide for an entire planet – all there in microcosm; essential, teeming with all the possibilities of life.

Seeds carry with them such potential, such vitality; the very essence of growth and latent hope.

The Parable of the Mustard Seed is one of the shorter parables of Jesus. And rather fittingly it speaks of greatness locked, encapsulated within the smallest of things.

The mustard seed is indeed tiny – around 1mm across. And yet from that seed grows a bush that can reach over nine feet tall; all that complexity and diversity from just the tiniest of beginnings. This is the analogy that Jesus draws, where the smallest of our actions, done with love, can have enormous ramifications. That the smallest of things, the smallest building bricks may construct the Kingdom of God.

Seeds carry with them such potential, such vitality; the very essence of growth and latent hope.

The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.
G.K. Chesterton

The Kingdom of God

Contained within that phrase is all that could be, all that would be, if this world were conformed more closely to the will of God, the rule, the quality, the measure of love. The Kingdom of God speaks of how all our lives could be, would be, were we to build and behave according to the principles that Jesus taught us and that we profess to wish to follow. But to what extent do we actually do so?

There is that famous quote from the writer G.K. Chesterton, author of the Father Brown detective novels:

“The Christian ideal” he said “has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”

Another challenging quote is attributed to Ghandi. A journalist had asked him: “What do you think of Western civilization?”
Gandhi’s reply: “I think it would be a good idea”.

We say that we want to build the Kingdom of God; we pray ‘thy Kingdom come’, we say that we want it for ourselves, our society, our children. And it is on our children that I want to now focus.

Our Children

It is important that we focus on our children’s mental health or a number of reasons:

Firstly because of that analogy of the mustard seed – and seeing our young children as the smallest among us and yet microcosms of what we hope and pray will be a long and full life yet to be. Like the seed they are filled with infinite possibilities.

Second, because of some very sad recent circumstances that seem to be a growing part of our modern life.

  • A few years ago a girl in my son’s school took an overdose because of her stress over exams. I have no doubt that this is replicated in schools in many countries.
  • A boy in our town had a heart attack at his exam desk and was put into an induced coma in hospital in a bid to save his life.
  • A study by the University of Coventry saw increasing numbers of teenagers contemplating suicide due to the pressure to get ever higher grades at their public exams.
  • Research by the Royal College of Psychiatrists found that demand for mental health services by university students was sharply on the increase; as many as 29 per cent displayed clinical levels of psychological distress. Student suicide had increased 170 per cent in the years since the 1980’s.

Like canaries in the mine, these young people show that there is something increasingly toxic about our present culture, about how we regard our young and indeed how we regard the value of any human being.

Mental Health Awareness
Photo by Inzmam Khan from Pexels
Exploitation by businesses
The journalist George Monbiot once shared a leaked memo from an analyst at a famous global bank and trading house in New York. It addressed students beginning a summer internship, and offered a glimpse of the poisonous culture into which they were to be inducted, with these words:

“I wanted to introduce you to the 10 Power Commandments … For nine weeks you will live and die by these … We expect you to be the last ones to leave every night, no matter what … I recommend bringing a pillow to the office. It makes sleeping under your desk a lot more comfortable …

The internship really is a nine-week commitment at the desk … an intern asked our staffer for a weekend off for a family reunion – he was told he could go. He was also asked to hand in his BlackBerry and pack up his desk … Play time is over and it’s time to buckle up.”

Clearly many of our business institutions now display psychopathic tendencies. Not only in sitting light to legal regulation and previous business ethics, but in considering young people as mere fodder for the ever-hungry corporate machine. And this sort of life denying, humanity negating attitude pervades many levels of our society. In supposedly advanced nations the prevalence of mental health problems among the young increases year on year.

The number of mental health beds for children fails to meet demand. The number of children admitted to hospital due to self-harm ever rises, while a recent survey showed that the number of young patients with eating disorders had almost doubled in three years.

Are we willing to change?

All this begs a couple of questions.

Firstly, are we even willing to admit to ourselves that this is a problem?
Are we willing to change? Are we willing to dare to imagine that society might learn different values – different priorities?

For the Christian it poses a second question.

Do we honestly think that any of this, in any way, has anything to do with the Kingdom of God?

We speak of it, we say that we are committed to it; we profess to desire it. But if the increasing brutalization of our young has anything to show us, it is that our words are hollow.

Is it merely the job of a Christian to be like everyone else, except perhaps a little more prayerful?

Is it merely the job of a Christian to tinker at the edges, an adjustment here, a food bank there, a drop-in or two – some good work in the community?

Image of a mustard flower
Christianity and Love

Good and caring though these things may be, we surely have to hold ourselves and our world to a much, much higher standard.

  • Where is our revulsion, our indignation at the society that we are busily creating, where our young get sicker and sadder by the day?
  • How do we hold those who lead us and our world, in politics and business, to account?
  • How do we witness to modes of thinking and of living that offer a radical and loving alternative?
  • How are we, in any way, shape or form, building the Kingdom? Or is that an aspiration always over the horizon.

Foundations, we tell ourselves, that one day will be dug, a building work that one day in the future will be started, but just not now. Not just yet. For in the meanwhile we have children to force through exams, we have to convince them that the highest marks will be the difference between success and utter failure in life.

And what of success?

Who is the more successful? Tim Berners-Lee, whose brilliant and generous imagination invented the internet, but who essentially gave it to the world without hoping to exploit it for his own gain, or billionaires who have obviously amassed great fortunes, but show their disregard for society by refusing to pay taxes of any kind?

Is the most successful doctor the one who has a lucrative plastic surgery private practice, an expensive home and luxury car, or is it an unknown medic, who has spent years in the poorest nations with Medicines Sans Frontieres, saving thousands of lives?

Must we apply the simple external measures of money and power and status? Must we become trapped into judging individuals against yet another league table?

That unknown banker thinks we should.

As Christians it is surely up to us to offer better answers than that.

And to start with our children.

Working together as Families

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