The Mustard Tree

By Jennifer Woodruff Tait

June 12, 2021

Scripture – Mark 4:26-32 (NRSV)

[Jesus] said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”

He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”


It is in the weeds and the kudzu, the death and the destruction, the questions and the uncertainties, the doubt and the longing that Christ is reconciling the world to himself. It is there that new life and new creation will break forth.


Yesterday we spent some time thinking about a world that, at present, looks very unlike the Kingdom of God. Today we turn to one of Jesus’ many descriptions of the Kingdom of God in the Gospels of Mark. I sometimes feel that you could open the Gospels almost at random and read one of Jesus’s parables or sayings about the kingdom of God.

Here Jesus gives us two images, both agricultural: the Kingdom of God is like a garden which the gardener did not pay a lot of attention to but it sprouted anyway, and the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, which doesn’t look like there’s a whole lot to it, but actually grows into a really big tree.

I am fascinated by these two images—not the least because I have whatever the opposite of a green thumb is. Is it possible that you could ignore your garden and go on with the business of life and “sleep and rise night and day” (presumably not weeding while you were sleeping and rising) and still have your grain sprout and grow and get to the point where it was actually edible and you could harvest it? I have watched my husband pull enough weeds in his garden to think that this would be an exceedingly difficult endeavor. How in the world did that poor grain not get choked by weeds, or mint, or kudzu?

Yet even as these images puzzle and amaze me, they also give me a key to where God is at work right now: not in the well-tended gardens where we expected him and prepared for him, especially before March 2020, but in the most tangled parts of the world and our lives—in among the weeds and the kudzu, the Zoom and the COVID, the death and the destruction, the questions and the uncertainties, the doubt and the longing.

It is there that Christ is reconciling the world to himself. It is there that new life and new creation will break forth. It is there that we have planted what seem to us like the tiniest of seeds, planted almost in despair. And it is there that Christ will make all things new and grow for us, somehow, some way, bursting through the weeds and cracked ground, the most amazing mustard tree.


Where have you planted mustard seeds? Where have you sowed gardens during this time, even if you didn’t weed them?

Where do you see Christ at work in the brokenness and the weeds?

How can you show forth Christ’s Kingdom among the weeds?


Here is a different setting of the ideas we’ve been looking at these past two days: the song “All Things New” by Andrew Peterson (it also incorporates imagery from Ephesians and Revelation). The lyrics are here. Listen and let Christ speak to you of how he will make all things new in your life and in our world.


Christ, we long for your Kingdom. Show it forth. Amen.

Sign up to receive a Life for Leaders devotional each day in your inbox. It’s free to subscribe and you can unsubscribe at any time.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Parables at Work (Mark 4:26-29 and 13:32-37)

Jennifer Woodruff Tait

Editorial Coordinator

Jennifer Woodruff Tait (PhD, Duke University; MSLIS, University of Illinois; MDiv/MA Asbury Theological Seminary) is the copyeditor of and frequent contributor to Life for Leaders. She is also senior editor of

More on Jennifer

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Learn Learn Learn Learn

the Life for Leaders newsletter

Learn Learn Learn Learn