The evil mustard seed
- The parable of the mustard seed has long been puzzling. The comparison of the kingdom of heaven to the weed like mustard bush seems curiously inappropriate. Could it be that the real interpretation is to turn the parable around completely and take it as a warning about losing the kingdom of heaven?
This negative form seems to exist in saying 97 -
(97) Jesus said: The kingdom of the [Father] is like a woman; carrying a jar full of meal and walking a long way. The handle the jar broke; the meal poured out behind her on the road. She was unaware, she knew not her loss. When she came into her house, she put down the jar (and) found it empty.
The meaning is apparently that the kingdom can be lost through neglect and inattention. So the kingdom is compared to the circumstance in which the kingdom is lost.
Are there any other examples of this curious negative form? I believe the saying following 97 is also a negative saying about losing the kingdom -
(98) Jesus said: The kingdom of the Father is like a man who wanted to kill a great man. He drew the sword in his house and drove it into the wall, that he might know that his hand would be strong. Then he slew the great man.
This is normally interpreted as a show of strength before slaying the great man - the devil. Yet like the mustard seed there is something curiously odd about this interpretation. Why the offensive comparison with an assassin?
I believe that there is a quite consistent 'code' used throughout Thomas and that in this code malefactors such as thieves and murderers always represent demons. Positive images such as being great, rich or powerful are used to denote someone in possession of the kingdom of heaven. Using this code we must interpret this saying quite differently.
The assassin is a devil who would kill the great or powerful man by making them lose the kingdom. As a trial of strength the demon first puts its sword through the wall of its own house which is the body. This means that a demon will first visit some bodily affliction on the person or make them do something that damages their own body, such as drunkenness or going with prostitutes. If the demon wins the trial of strength it will go on to slay the great man and rob the person of the kingdom.
Another very similar example is saying 35-
(35) Jesus said: It is not possible for anyone to go into the strong man's house and take it (or him) by force, unless he bind his hands; then he will plunder his house.
Again the strong man would be someone in possession of the kingdom, the potential thief would be a demon. The demon can only rob the strong man of the kingdom if the strong man's hands are first tied - presumably by the cares and responsibilities of this world, such as a spouse and children. These ties make him weak and vulnerable.
The normal interpretation of this saying is of course that the strong man is again the devil and this is the interpretation seized on by the gospel writers. But this gives the problem as to why we should want to plunder the devils house.
With these three examples we can turn to the mustard seed -
20) The disciples said to Jesus: Tell us what the kingdom of heaven is like. He said to them: It is like a grain of mustard-seed, smaller than all seeds; but when it falls on the earth which is tilled, it puts forth a great branch, and becomes shelter for the birds of heaven.
It does not read like a negative saying - but then it has been translated more than once by people who doubtless believed that the mustard seed represented the kingdom of heaven.
However the mustard bush is a fast growing noxious weed on tilled ground. In the parable of the sower the weeds stop the seed from growing. Also in the parable of the sower birds are negative agents or thieves of the seed. This suggests that the negative interpretation is the correct one.
In this negative interpretation the mustard seed is a small element of evil that enters into the heart. If it is allowed to remain it will grow rapidly and eventually cause the person to lose the kingdom. This meaning is similar to that of other sayings - be ever vigilant against the forces of evil and do not permit them the smallest foothold in the kingdom.
Was Christianity founded by a woman?
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