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Matthew 13:31-33

Lesson Focus

Jesus teaches us that in the economy of the kingdom, inefficiency doesn't matter as it brings unlimited potential and transformation.

Lesson Outcomes

Through this lesson, students should:

  1. Understand the significance of Jesus' parables on the kingdom of heaven, recognizing its small beginnings and the concept that growth may not be immediately visible but holds vast potential for transformation over time.

  2. Grasp the importance of the kingdom of heaven's hidden impact as it quietly spreads through the world, influencing and permeating even large quantities with its message.

  3. Appreciate the lesson on the nature of the kingdom of heaven, realizing that its inefficiencies do not hinder its progress and that there is always an abundant supply for spreading the good news, leading to an environment free from the myth of scarcity present in the world.

Catching Up on the Story

Presumably, the setting for this section in Matthew has remained the same. As Matthew tells us at the beginning of the chapter, Jesus has taken up a place next to the sea. A large crowd has gathered around him, so Jesus takes the opportunity to teach his followers and the crowd about the nature of the kingdom of heaven.

Parables feature prominently in this section of Matthew’s gospel, specifically parables set in an agrarian environment. For the most part, these parables' function is descriptive. They describe the nature of the kingdom of heaven as it relates to the world. Jesus is kind enough to provide his followers with an explanation of at least two of the parables. Jesus explains the parable of the seeds scattered on several different soil types and the parable of the wheat and the weeds.

In each case, seeds are the beginning of God’s kingdom as it makes its way into God’s beloved world. The soil into which the seed has been put represents people as they encounter the gospel. In the parable of the wheat and weeds, however, the soil is fertile but describes the inevitable appearance of weeds in the harvest.

Taken together, these two parables describe the inefficiencies of the kingdom. The good news is not universally accepted, leading to the “wasting” of a fair amount of seed. Even when the seed takes root and begins to grow properly, there is no guarantee that there won’t be competition for nutrients in the soil.

In the economy of the kingdom of heaven, inefficiency does not matter. The myth of scarcity that so plagues our world that leads to selfishness, greed, strife, and war is not present in God’s kingdom. There is always enough in the kingdom. There is an unlimited supply of seeds for the spreading and an unchecked flow of nutrients for the seeds that blossom into mature plants.


The next three parables considered further display the upside-down nature of the kingdom of heaven. Many desired God’s kingdom to come in magnificently powerful and revolutionary ways. What these two parables highlight is the smallness with which the kingdom begins.

Again, Matthew begins this little section with, “He put before them another parable.” Matthew uses the same phrase at the beginning of the parable of the wheat and weeds, signifying the importance of what follows. The language is reminiscent of the language used in Deuteronomy and Exodus when God gives Israel the law. While these parables are not laws, Jesus indicates the significance of the description of God’s kingdom in this parable.

Made up of only one compound sentence, the parable of the mustard seed highlights the smallness of the kingdom. The mustard seed is one of the smallest seeds in the world. Making a full gram of seeds takes around 750 individual mustard seeds. Each one of those seeds has the potential to fall on good ground, growing into something much larger. Jesus tells us that what springs from the mustard seed becomes the “greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree.”

Of course, the transformation from seed to tree takes time. The plant remains small for years, with growth sometimes noticeable and, at other times, not so noticeable. The general habit of our world disdains things that start small and take a long time to grow. I suppose we’re used to small things exploding into massive enterprises. Social media platforms and phone apps or tech startups come to mind. How many times has a small video gone viral in the span of a few short hours? As common as we might think that kind of growth to be, it is the exception rather than the rule.

Over the last few decades, the church in places has experienced exponential growth. The rise of the mega-church seemed to happen overnight. Pastors and well-meaning laypeople flocked to conferences hoping to learn the secret sauce at work in the church growth movement. There’s nothing wrong with any of that, mind you. According to Jesus, however, that’s not the general way the kingdom works.

The kingdom of heaven is small but packed with the potential to be environment changing. We should expect that the growth of God’s kingdom here on earth is small, taking a long time to grow to maturity. I think this works on a macro scale, as in the work of God through the church worldwide and across time, and on a micro scale. The work of God through the local church is small, but that local church, with its faithful followers of Jesus, reaches its branches out into unknown spaces and times. The branches move like capillaries through the body, providing the much needed oxygen of the kingdom.

We ought not to get discouraged with the fruit of our labor is not immediately seen. We ought not to become discouraged when our local church remains small in attendance or reach. Instead, we must stay diligent, hard-working, and filled with hope that one day our work will be joined with the work of others, and we will see the nature of the plant we helped grow.


The next parable is even shorter than the previous one. So too, is the size of the “seed” mentioned. Obviously, yeast is not a seed but works in a similar fashion. It is small and largely unseen, yet it has a significant reach.

In this simple one sentence parable, Jesus tells us that the kingdom of heaven is like “yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour.” The NRSV uses “mixed in with,” which misses the subversive nature of the parable and its description of the kingdom of heaven. A better translation is “hid in with.” The hiddenness of the yeast suggests that, more often than not, the gospel will not be headline news. The hiddenness of the gospel means that most of the time, its movement is barely visible (Bruner, 36).

The parable of the yeast is similar to that of the mustard seed in the way the gospel grows. Three measures of flour is a significant amount. Indeed, it is “ridiculously large-about thirty-nine liters.” That’s enough to feed a crowd of around 40 people three meals a day for many days (Bruner, 34). A little bit works through the whole bunch.

The position of the phrase that gets translated as “all of it was leavened” is emphatic. The emphasis is on the wholeness or the completeness of the yeast mixture through the dough. If we take the parable of the sower at the beginning of chapter 13 seriously, even though the gospel and the kingdom it proclaims works through and permeates the whole world, it does not mean that all are converted.

So What?

The parables of the mustard seed and yeast, along with their context in the larger story Matthew tells, offer profound insights and implications for our understanding of the kingdom of heaven and its relevance for us today.

First, these parables challenge our preconceived notions of success and impact. In a world that often celebrates immediate and grandiose achievements, Jesus presents a different perspective. The kingdom of heaven starts small, like a tiny mustard seed, and works gradually. These parables remind us that significant spiritual growth may take time and might not always be immediately visible. In our personal lives and ministries, we should find encouragement to remain patient, diligent, and hopeful, trusting that the work we sow, no matter how small, has the potential to bring about profound transformation.

Second, the concept of hiddenness in the parable of the yeast challenges our understanding of influence and significance. The gospel's impact may not always be headline news or draw widespread attention, but that does not diminish its reach and influence. As followers of Jesus, we are called to embrace the idea that our efforts, even when unseen by the world, can powerfully affect those around us. We should be content knowing that our faithfulness in living out the gospel has a meaningful, behind-the-scenes impact on individuals and communities.

Moreover, Jesus' parables highlight the inherent differences between the kingdom of heaven and the world. The kingdom operates on a different economy, one that transcends scarcity and competition. In a world that often grapples with selfishness, greed, and the pursuit of power, the kingdom of heaven offers an alternative way of living. It calls us to trust in God's abundance, knowing that there is always enough to sustain and nourish the growth of His kingdom.

Finally, these parables invite us to listen and understand Jesus' message. They remind us that the nature of the kingdom of God is best grasped through attentive and reflective listening. We are to engage our imaginations and move toward deeper contemplation. In our pursuit of spiritual growth and understanding, we are encouraged to be attentive listeners, seeking to grasp the depth of Jesus' teachings discerning what that might mean for us today.

In conclusion, the parables of the mustard seed and yeast hold profound significance for us today. They challenge our notions of success, encourage us to appreciate the hidden impact of the gospel, and remind us of the kingdom's distinctive values and economy. Through these parables, Jesus calls us to patiently sow the seeds of faith, trusting in God's transformative power, and inviting us to listen attentively to His teachings. By embracing these lessons, we can find hope, purpose, and a renewed commitment to live out the values of the kingdom of heaven in our daily lives.

Discussion Questions

Read the text aloud. Then, read the text to yourself quietly. Read it slowly, as if you were very unfamiliar with the story.

  1. How does Jesus' use of agricultural parables, such as the mustard seed and yeast, help us understand the nature of the kingdom of heaven and its growth process?

  2. In what ways does the concept of hiddenness in the parable of the yeast challenge our expectations of how the gospel and the kingdom of heaven might impact the world?

  3. Reflect on the idea that inefficiency does not matter in the economy of the kingdom of heaven, and discuss how this perspective might counter the prevalent mindset of scarcity in our world.

  4. How can we maintain hope and diligence in our efforts to spread the gospel, even when the visible results seem slow or small, considering the parallel between the mustard seed's growth and the growth of God's kingdom on earth?

  5. Discuss the significance of Jesus' emphasis on listening and understanding his message, especially in light of his use of parables to convey deeper spiritual truths.

  6. How does the parable of the wheat and weeds, with the presence of competition and challenges even in fertile soil, provide insights into the complexities of God's kingdom coexisting with the world's imperfections?

  7. Share your thoughts on the portrayal of the kingdom of heaven as a force capable of environment-changing impact despite its small beginnings, drawing parallels to both the global and local aspects of the church's growth.

  8. How might the modern church's fascination with immediate and massive growth contrast with the patience and gradual development highlighted in Jesus' parables of the mustard seed and yeast?

  9. Discuss the role of parables as a teaching tool, considering how they engage listeners' imagination and encourage deeper reflection on spiritual truths.

  10. In what ways might Jesus' parables on the kingdom of heaven impact our church’s ministry, and our understanding of God's work in the world today?

Works Cited

Frederick Dale Bruner, Matthew: A Commentary: The Churchbook, Matthew 13-28, Revised & enlarged edition (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2004).