The Parable of the Mustard Seed, one of Savior’s shortest allegories, typically receives scant attention in our scripture study. The “New Testament Come Follow Me” manual predictably “Mormonizes” the scripture, claiming it is simply about the growth of Christ’s church in the latter days. But the parable makes no reference to a “church” and the Savior’s audience was definitely not 21st-century Latter-day Saints. Further, the manual only references Matthew’s account of this teaching while ignoring those in Mark and Luke which, when properly understood, shed much light on the message Jesus was trying convey to his audience.
In actuality, this parable is about the “Kingdom of God/Heaven,” something altogether different from a church. And since it appears in each of the synoptic gospels, perhaps the Evangelists were trying to underscore the importance of this story.
Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field:Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.
We often misread scripture because we don’t study it carefully, are predisposed to simply accept the interpretation of an ecclesiastical leader, do not read it in context, or fail to consider the culture and beliefs of the original audience. And sometimes, it’s a combination of all of these. Such is the case, I believe, regarding Christ’s response to the question: Is it lawful to pay taxes to Rome? (Matt. 22:15-22 NASB):
15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted together how they might trap Him in what He said. 16 And they sent their disciples to Him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any. 17 Tell us then, what do You think? Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus perceived their malice, and said, “Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites? 19 Show Me the coin used for the poll-tax.” And they brought Him a denarius. 20 And He said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” Then He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 And hearing this, they were amazed, and leaving Him, they went away.
The names by which we know Christ’s parables are often our own invention; they usually cannot be found in the scriptures. While these labels provide a convenient way to refer to a given story, they sometimes distort and obscure its message. A good example of this phenomenon is the Parable of the Prodigal Son. After studying this text more carefully, I believe it would be more accurate to call it: “The Parable of the Dysfunctional Family of Man.”
Jesus recounted this parable as he traveled from Galilee to Jerusalem. And Luke makes it clear that his audiences, like us, were large and diverse, consisting of disciples, detractors (e.g., scribes and Pharisees), sinners, tax collectors, and curiosity seekers.
Seventy-six years ago this morning, the United States and its allies launched the largest amphibious invasion in history when they attacked German forces occupying Normandy along the northern coast of France. The invasion—which came to be known as “D-Day”—consisted of approximately 7,000 vessels, 1,200 of which were warships. But most were transport vessels tasked with landing 150,000 allied soldiers and their equipment on five beaches—code-named Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword—spanning some fifty miles.
The attack was preceded by an immense aerial and naval bombardment of the Normandy coast. Allied planes dropped more than 11,000 tons of bombs in the eight hours prior to the invasion, while the fleet’s artillery pounded the coast just before the troops went ashore. In 10 minutes, 600 naval guns fired 2,000 tons of shells at various German fortifications.
One of the most commonly misconstrued passages of scripture is Revelation 3:15-16 (NSRV):
15“I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. 16So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.
Our manuals and the messages we hear from the pulpit invariably construe “lukewarm” to mean a halfhearted commitment to the gospel. Indeed, a speaker during the April 2017 General Conference cited these verses for this very proposition. While an apathetic or perfunctory attitude towards any righteous endeavor will always fall short of what is expected, a close reading of this text, and a careful examination of its historical—and geographical—context, reveals a message with multiple layers of meaning.
There are few religious texts of greater interest to modern Christians than the apocalyptic writings of Matthew. And there are few passages more challenging than the eschatological parables in the 25th chapter of that gospel, the most familiar of which is the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids (Matt. 25:1-13 NRSV):
1Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. 11 Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ 13 Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
On the Sunday before Christmas, it has become my custom to play a 30-minute prelude on the piano in our chapel before the start of church. The music, consisting of sacred carols from different countries, varies from year to year. A short printed program, providing some background information on each piece, is placed in the pews, and reverence is given renewed emphasis.
One of the pieces I played this past Christmas was Whence Is That Goodly Fragrance Flowing? a 17th century French carol about the Nativity of Christ and the calling of the shepherds to Bethlehem. It begins with this verse:
Whence is that goodly fragrance flowing, Stealing our senses all away? Never the like did come a-blowing, Shepherds, from flow’ry fields in May. Whence is that goodly fragrance flowing, Stealing our senses all away?
In the mid-1970s, sportswriter Frank Deford was sent by his employer, Sports Illustrated, to cover an NCAA convention in Chicago. The day following his arrival, Deford wandered into a nearby coffee shop to get some breakfast. The place was quite crowded, but he spied a lone vacant seat at the end of the counter and seized it.
He initially took no notice of the person sitting next to him. But after unfolding his newspaper, he glanced to his left and was taken aback by a man attired completely in white. Yes, it was none other than the legendary founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken, Colonel Harland Sanders. Continue reading “Bishop Duane G. Hunt”
Melchizedek is an obscure individual who makes but one appearance in the Bible, and most folks can’t tell you where or when. But Latter-day Saints sure can, for the high priesthood of Mormonism bears his name. Unfortunately, our exclusive focus on his priestly authority causes us to miss something profound in his encounter with Abraham.
To grasp the import of this episode, we have to focus on what was going on in Abraham’s life before Melchizedek arrived and what immediately followed. In other words, we have to read it in context.
In 2001, an email containing the following excerpt from a talk attributed to Boyd K. Packer circulated rapidly in LDS circles:
You were in the War in Heaven and one day when you are in the spirit world you will be enthralled with those who you associate with. You will ask someone in which time period he lived and you might hear, I was with Moses when he parted the Red Sea, or I helped build the pyramids, or I fought with Captain Moroni. And as you are standing there in amazement, someone will turn to you and ask, ‘Which prophet’s time did you live in?’ And when you say Gordon B. Hinckley, a hush will fall over every hall, every corridor in heaven and all in attendance will bow at your presence. You were held back six thousand years because you were the most talented, most obedient, most courageous, and most righteous. Are you still? Remember who you are.