How to Explain the Parable of the Mustard Seed

Mustard seed field.
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The parable of the mustard seed is a story that Jesus told about a very small seed, the mustard seed, growing into a large tree that provides shelter for many birds. It is recorded in Matthew 13:31-32. The mustard seed is compared to the kingdom of heaven due to its small beginnings and expansive reach at maturity. While the parable contains valuable lessons, it is a concept that is often difficult to grasp without further explanation.

Dry mustard seeds.
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Show the class a mustard seed as you begin to explain this parable. Ask the students to pass the seed around the room so they can feel how small the seed is in the palm of their hands. Explain to the students that the mustard seed represents the word of God. It is through sharing God's word that new believers are born and celebrate eternal life in heaven. The mustard seed is much like God's kingdom on earth. Through the work of every believer, the kingdom continues to grow.

Close up of Bible.
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Ask the students who planted the seed. Depending on the age of your audience, do not be surprised if they are unable to understand that Jesus was the "farmer" in this parable. During His time on earth, Jesus shared God's word and planted seeds of faith in as many hearts as He could reach. Believers are not unlike Jesus in the sense they are expected to sow the seeds of God's love everywhere they go, continuing to grow His kingdom on earth and in heaven.

Show a picture of mustard seeds.
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Show the students the picture of a mature mustard tree. Explain to them that from the one seed that was planted, the result was a tree that will produce the seeds that make mustard for years to come. The tree develops a strong root structure that resists the elements. Discuss the importance of faith with your students and explain that their faith in Christ is much like the mustard tree. Where it was once small and fragile, they are growing their faith by continuing to learn about God. The mustard that is harvested symbolizes God's providence in the lives of the earthly kingdom. The tree can grow to a height of over nine feet, towering over the other plants just as God towers over those who do not believe in Him.

Trees are metaphors.
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Explain that while the tree is their faith, the birds perching in the tree are the students. During times of trouble, they can find shelter from their problems in the tree of faith. When they are experiencing times of great happiness, it can be equated to the tree being a comfortable sanctuary for them to rest in.

Mustard seed vineyard.
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Discuss the fact that the mustard tree was not considered a tree in the times of Jesus, but rather an invasive weed. While some people believed there was no value to the mustard tree, others saw the value of its fruit and reaped the benefits of their harvest. There are many people who do not believe that God is real and relevant in their lives, but to those who have faith He gives the greatest blessings.

Heather Heinzer is a freelance writer from Wisconsin. She has been writing professionally since 2008 and has been featured in "Parents for Parents" magazine. She is planning to return to the University of Wisconsin-Rock County to obtain a degree in communications.