First lets break apart the sections of the parable a bit. There is reference to the Mustard seed itself, the mustard plant, Levin, which is yeast, and the scene that is produced by each item. A literary analysis may produce that the seed represents the smallest and most unassuming start to what grows into the largest and best place of rest in the fields/garden. The parable talks about how the mustard plant grows into a source of shade and a place for the birds of the field to get rest. Resting and calm patches of shade often represent restoration strength and recovery. Thus, the mustard plant is touted as a true prize to have in a garden, something that is special and worth cultivating. But as it is pointed out in the parable the mustard seed that produces such a large plant and strong benefit to the garden is the smallest seed known to the world of horticulture at that time in that particular area. So in the same way, the most unassuming and smallest of actions can be used and grown into the largest and most beneficial situations or experiences for man.
So what of the yeast in the parable? Just a small amount is combined within the dough and left to grow and do what it’s meant to do. It is also interesting to note that the parable does not say anything about the mustard seed requiring a skillful farmer for it to grow and flourish. Which leads me to believe that this parable is saying that the smallest and most innocent of interactions, when intended by the plans of God will grow and consume the “host” (if you will) when left to itself.
Now a look at that modern ideals of evangelism. I was taught as a child that if someone wasn’t a “believer” they were going to hell, and I needed to be the one to warn them about this inevitable situation. I was taught that essentially I needed to tell them repeatedly that they were going to hell if they didn’t stop doing whatever it is that they were doing that made them non-believers. Now as I get older this makes less and less since. First, since when has anyone been able to avoid doing X by thinking about it in any way without having an alternate activity? Second, and probably more important, since when has condemnation made anyone want to be more like the person spouting off the judgments? And Finally, isn’t it the holy spirit’s job to “convert” souls to the side of Christ? So all that to say that according to the parable of the mustard seed, we have this evangelism thing a bit off.
Saint Francis of Assisi is attributed to have said “preach the gospel every day, and use words only if you must.” So showing through actions the gospel is more impacting than speaking it. This is shown in other areas of life as well. Who are the best bosses? The ones who lead by example. Who are the best teachers or mentors, the ones who will show you how to do things by practicing for themselves how it’s done. Okay, so lead by example, show through your actions the gospel of Christ, and use words if you must. But how many words? If we take the parable into account the smallest token and least amount of active ingredients will consume and grow into exactly what it’s meant to be. So the least amount of words coupled with the appropriate examples will be the most powerful and influential evangelistic tools. Why? Because they are like the mustard seed, and the yeast. These small actions, these things that we are merely asked to do because we serve God are the things that are actually the most effective in showing the love of Christ and thus the Gospel of Christ to our fellow humans. It’s not easy to have faith that the mere consistency of believing and following Christ will actually be showing others what it is like to be a Christ-follower.
I’m not a huge fan of evangelism as it is defined today. But I evangelize every day by loving my God and my neighbor. By allowing someone into my lane in busy traffic, by saying “God bless you” when they sneeze. I do this by just believing in their humanity and lending the ear they need so desperately. I do this by having peace and humility. I show Christ by giving a shit about people who don’t “fit in” and don’t do it the “right” way. And when the time comes to answer the question of why I do these things, I’m ready with an answer… Because Christ would do the same.
I think that having the faith of the mustard seed is not about believing you can do great things but rather believing that the smallest and most unassuming things will be what makes the difference in the lives of those you interact with.