The Parable of the Mustard (and Turnip) Seeds

By Jean Blish Siers *

JaredMaybe it’s because I’m a farm girl, but some of the parables I love the most are those that have to do with planting. They speak to me in an instinctual way – earth, sky, seeds, and rain, always combined with human action. In those parables – about the mustard seed or the sower, for instance – the kingdom of God doesn’t arrive passively. It comes through the bounty of God’s earth and our understanding of his world, and our own actions to make it happen abundantly.

Jesus’s parable of the mustard seed was on my mind last Saturday. I’d driven early to Riverbend Farm in a rural county outside of Charlotte, North Carolina, where I live, to prepare to welcome a group to glean greens. My thermometer read 49 degrees, but sunshine already took the edge off the morning chill. Jim Little, the farmer, met me to show me the field and talk about how the fall was treating him. Jim motioned out at the expanse of greens, standing at least a foot high, and apologized the turnips hadn’t done well this year. It had been just too hot and too dry. We’d find a few. But those greens! They were gorgeous!

Each year, Jim plants a field for Society of St. Andrew, usually half turnips, half greens, and lets us come out in October and November to glean. He tithes a portion of his farm, giving something back because the land has supported him and his family all these years.

GingerI thanked Jim for taking such good care of us, but he waved away my thanks. “All that is right there is a pound of turnip seeds and probably less than a pound of mixed greens,” he said, as if that were nothing. But less than two pounds of tiny seeds on an acre of fertile soil became plants that would nourish our hungry neighbors in several counties over the course of the next few weeks.

Isn’t that like the parable of the mustard seed? It’s in each of the synoptic gospels, with slight variations. Here is Matthew 13:31-32 “Jesus told them another story: The kingdom of heaven is like what happens when a farmer plants a mustard seed in a field. Although it is the smallest of all seeds, it grows larger than any garden plant and becomes a tree. Birds even come and nest on its branches.”

Jesus grabs our attention with his exaggeration in the parable – obviously mustard seeds aren’t the smallest seed out there (anyone who has planted turnips knows that!) and they don’t grow into a tree. But the Kingdom of God grows out of our flickers of faith, our acts of kindness and love, our belief in something beyond us. Just as those two pounds of seeds, mixed with some rich soil, sunshine, and rain grow into so much more.

Of course, just like God’s kingdom, none of that would be possible without human interaction and attention. Jim is the expert Donnaand he knows when to plant and how to prepare the field. And I couldn’t get those greens gleaned without the cheerful help of school groups and gleaners from all over the area. Earlier in the week, a group from an area middle school had joined us and picked a couple thousand pounds of greens. The Saturday I was out, thirty gleaners gathered more than 4,000 pounds that went to four counties. It took a lot of hands and a lot of caring to bring God’s Kingdom to fruition: planting, harvesting, loading, and delivering.

Each day we glean, we see a slice of the Kingdom of God. God is in the sunshine and the soil, the skill of the farmer, the dedication of the volunteer, and the joy of the recipients. That community is the kingdom on earth, and on that particular Saturday, it felt, to me, like a little slice of heaven!

* Jean Blish Siers is SoSA’s Charlotte Area Gleaning Coordinator.




In the event I, or a registered family member, suffers any illness or accident requiring emergency hospitalization, medication, or other medical assistance while participating in a gleaning event, permission is given for any medical treatment which is deemed necessary and reasonable under the circumstances. I fully understand and comprehend that reasonable care will be exercised by the adult staff for this gleaning event to protect the safety of those involved. I understand that the field supervisor’s instructions must be followed at all times, and that I am responsible for any damages caused to fields, farms, or equipment by me/my family members not following these instructions.

Photos, videos, and other images in which I, or a registered family member, appear that are taken during gleanings may be used by the Society of St. Andrew for news coverage, newsletters, reports, displays, and for other print, broadcast, web, or electronic news or promotional purposes.

I do not hold the board, members, or employees of the Society of St. Andrew (SoSA,) or any volunteers liable for injury, bodily harm, accidents, or death of myself/my child during events sponsored by the Society of St. Andrew. Neither will I hold the person(s) who owns and/or operates the property from which we glean, salvage, or to which we deliver food, liable for accidents, injury, or death during the gleanings or other SoSA events.

For a PDF print version of this waiver, click here.

How the Story of the 12 Baskets is Connected to SoSA’s Name

Matthew 14:16-21

But Jesus said to them, “They do not need to go away; you give them something to eat!” They said to Him, “We have here only five loaves and two fish.” And He said, “Bring them here to Me.” Ordering the people to sit down on the grass, He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food, and breaking the loaves He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds, and they all ate and were satisfied. They picked up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve full baskets. There were about five thousand men who ate, besides women and children.

2 Kings 4:42-44

[…]the man of God […] said, “Give them to the people that they may eat.” His attendant said, “What, will I set this before a hundred men?” But he said, “Give them to the people that they may eat, for thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and have some left over.’” So he set it before them, and they ate and had some left over, according to the word of the Lord.