The mustard seed never becomes a tree.
One day, the Lord asked me one of those questions that turn my faith upside down. “Femi,” he said, “does a mustard seed ever become a tree?”
The question was confusing. Does the mustard seed not become a tree? Did he himself not preach about it? Jesus says: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.” Nevertheless at your word Lord Jesus, I decided to investigate. Does the mustard seed actually become a tree?
The answer was so unexpected, it made me angry. The mustard seed never becomes a tree. At best, it grows to become a shrub. Mustard trees don’t exist; except of course in Christian circles where they are planted fictitiously by “Nicodemus” pastors and televangelists.
The disciples asked Jesus why he spoke habitually to the people in parables. Why not just talk plainly to them? Jesus replied that since they did not want to understand what he was saying, he also was going to make sure they did not understand. We are used to telling it like it is, but the whole essence of Jesus’ parables is to tell it like it is not. This is because the ways of the kingdom are not the ways of men. Therefore, Jesus’ parables are designed to confound our preconceptions. They administer a shock to the system. They stop us in our tracks and make us ask with incredulity: “how can that possibly be?”
In truth, the mustard is a herb, so it never grows into anything like a tree. All the varieties of the mustard family have thin stems and branches, ensuring that they only grow to become shrubs. Most birds would not be inclined to build their nest in a mustard plant because of the sharp aroma. Therefore, once you hear of a mustard plant that is greater than herbs and becomes a tree; know immediately it is an aberration, a distorted hybrid or a fake.
So when Jesus told the parable, he actually wanted his listeners to realise that the kingdom of God does not come, according to their expectations, as a tree growing high up into the sky. It grows as a weed and as under-bush. It spreads out unnoticed on the ground. Jesus himself was a tender plant; a root out of dry ground with no beauty or majesty to attract us to him. (Isaiah 53:2)
Jesus wants us to think small and not big. The tasks of the kingdom are not accomplished by filling huge stadiums or by making intercontinental television broadcasts. God’s great works are not done on such vainglorious levels. They are not done in cathedrals, big theatres or parade grounds; but where two or three are gathered. The kingdom of God is like a little mustard seed planted in us. It is growing, but it will not turn us into cedars of Lebanon. We would be doing excellently well if we were to become modest shrubs.
Genuine kingdom work is accomplished in the mundane details of everyday life. It does not need a multi-billion naira jet-plane to promote it. It is fulfilled by small acts of love and kindness; encouraging the afflicted; supporting the weak. It will not be celebrated in the newspapers, proclaimed on billboards or extolled on television. It will not achieve recognition in Newsweek magazine or result in the attainment of national awards.
Instead, the work of God is a thankless task done by “unprofitable servants.” To all intents and purposes, it ends in failure and not in success. Isaiah was duly warned: no matter what you say, the people will not listen. (Isaiah 6:9-11) Like Christ, the true child of God is despised and rejected of the people. (Isaiah 53:3)
Therefore, the popular pastor or evangelist is a contradiction in terms. The man who pulls the crowd is not likely to be a real disciple of Christ. The truer he is to form, the less popular he will be. Jesus says: “If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:19) Since the world loves mega-pastors, the jury is already in.