The Parable of the Mustard Seed


The Parable of the Mustard Seed

“The Kingdom of God is a mustard seed,
The leastest of all of the seeds of the earth,
From out which the greatest of herbs shall be freed,
With branches so stout for the birds to find berth.”

“But Master, are then not the seeds of the duckweed,
Or even the orchid, or poppy, or rue,
Yet ever more tiny, yet too they succeed ?
From dust on the breeze, so the wilderness grew.
Whyfore is mustard so sacred ?
If smallness is wanted, when all’s said and done,
Then surely the Kingdom of God should be second to none ?
To carpenters, all wood is worthy,
But farmers know not ev’ry stem is a beam,
And there’s more to croft than a prophet can dream.”

“Then look at the size of the mustard and poppy:
The former grows three times the height of the latter.
Within such a speck lies so giant a crop, see,
And we should remember that, next time we scatter.”

“But Master, if increase in size is so vital,
Then why not the mulberry, grapevine or cane ?
There surely are worthier plants for the title,
For look at the growth of the poplar and plane !
Whyfore is mustard so sacred  ?
The not-tallest herb from the not-smallest seed.
And surely the Kingdom of God is a tree, not a weed ?
To fishermen, all land is constant,
But farmers know not ev’ry bud will bare fruit –
And there’s more to a plant than a leaf and a root.”

“But those other plants are not found in the garden
Their seeds are but sown by the wind, not the hand.
And mustard grows tall and its branches will harden,
So even the nests of the birds can it stand.”

“But Master, the mustard grows tall in late summer,
And then, as an annual, each winter it dies.
When nesters are building, this plant’s still a comer,
And still till the fledglings have long filled the skies.
Whyfore is mustard so sacred ?
For any birds perching must cause it to quake.
But surely the Kingdom of Heaven won’t tremble and break ?
To parables, all things are symbols
But farmers know not ev’ry shrub is a rose,
And there’s more to a seed than the fact that she grows.”

In terms of the ratio between the volume of the seed and the volume of the plant it fell from, Jesus would be hard-pressed to better the Coast Redwood: Wikipedia gives the seeds a size of 4mm x 1mm (including wings – about four times longer than a mustard seed), and let’s say they are 0.5mm deep. Let’s be generous and assume they are perfect rectangles, so each will have a volume of 2mm3, or 1/500 millionth of a cubic metre. The tallest known tree today is Hyperion at 115m, though the most massive is Grogan’s Fault with a main trunk volume of 1084m3 as at 2014, and that doesn’t include the branches or roots (though who knows how one calculates such a thing). Let’s call it a 1000m3 – we therefore have a size increase of 542 billion times the seed that grew it !

However, Grogan has nothing on Pando, a grove of Quaking Aspens that are infact all clones sharing a root system. Wikipedia gives its estimated weight at 6 million kilos, and according to Penn State University the average green wood weighs 714 kg/m3, so 6 million kilos of tree has a volume of 4,284,000 metres3. Unfortunately, I cannot find an indication online as to the size of the seeds, but the US Forestry Service states that there are “very light, 5,500 to 8,000 clean seeds per gram”. If we take the lower figure, then that single Aspen seed which spawned Pando has put on 33 trillion times its own mass.

However, give omniscient Jesus his due, he surely knew that redwoods would not thrive in arid Canaan, and this was likely why he didn’t bring them up. However, Canaan contains both Aspens (albeit Eurasian, not Quaking) and their cousins Poplars (White and Black), and the King James Version mentions
‘poplar’ twice – once in Genesis 30:37 (the famous ‘goats staring at streaky rods give birth to streaky kids’ experiment), and again in Hosea 4:13. But…the seeds are often accompanied by hairs making them appear much larger. What about a more down-to-Earth comparison ?

I can find no statistics on the average weights of garden plants, but (which sells them) states that there are around 360 Black Mustard seeds/gram, and Wikipedia says that a gram of Poppy seeds will get you 3300 seeds (there is no mention of Poppies in the KJV, but there is archeological evidence that the Philistines introduced them – indeed maybe they even formed part of Isaiah 40:6’s
‘flowers of the field’). Therefore, each Mustard seed weights the equivalent of 9 Poppy seeds, so even though a fully-grown Black Mustard plant is 2 metres tall (Britannica) and a full grown Poppy only 1 metre (Wikipedia) – it’s hard to imagine that the Mustard weighs nine times as much (remember, they have hollow stems). Though based on the image below, they look about a quarter of the volume so maybe the mustard seeds are more dense ? Incidentally, Wolffia is a type of duckweed, including the world’s smallest flowering plant, so no wonder their seeds are so teeny.

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