Monday, January 1, 2024

Saying 20


The disciples said to Jesus, ‘Tell us, what is the kingdom of the sky like?’

He said to them, ‘It is like a mustard seed, smaller than all seeds. But when it falls on cultivated soil, it produces a large branch and becomes a shelter for birds of the sky.’


The Book of Ezekiel contains several tree allegories, but chapter 17 seems to be a source of inspiration for this parable. First (17.1–10), Ezekiel tells how an eagle planted a cedar tree in a favored position and cultivated it, but a second eagle swooped in and replanted the cedar elsewhere, causing it to die. The prophet explains (17.11–21) that the tree represents the Judean kingdom, the first eagle symbolized the supervision of Babylon over the Judean people, and the second eagle was the influence of Egypt on Judah to rebel against Babylonian authority. This resulted in Babylon overthrowing the Judean kingdom altogether and taking many of its people into exile. However, Ezekiel predicts that God will soon replant a twig from the cedar tree, growing it to be even better than before (17.22–24). In late Second Temple-era Judaism, some believed God would soon restore Israel and Judah and unite them during the end times. The parable from Jesus is a simpler retelling of Ezekiel’s allegory in this apocalyptic context. The simplicity of the saying suggests it came from the earliest version of the book.



17.22–24 Thus says the Lord Yhwh: I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of a cedar. I will set it out. I will break off a tender one from the topmost of its young twigs. I myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain. On the mountain height of Israel I will plant it, in order that it may produce boughs and bear fruit, and become a noble cedar. Under it every kind of bird will live. In the shade of its branches will nest winged creatures of every kind. All the trees of the field shall know that I am Yhwh. I bring low the high tree, I make high the low tree. I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish. I, Yhwh, have spoken. I will accomplish it.


4.30–32 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 sky can make nests in its shade.’


13.31–32 He put before them another parable. ‘The kingdom of the skies is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the sky come and make nests in its branches.’


13.18–19 He said therefore, ‘What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds of the sky made nests in its branches.’

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