Week 3: New Testament Parables

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Gospel of Thomas: Mustard Seed - Keeping Watch

Reading time: 4 minutes. Word count: 700 words.

The parable of the harvest in this section of Thomas is found in a slightly longer form in Mark. The parable of the mustard seed is found in all three of synoptic gospels: Mark, Matthew and Luke. There are very few parables that occur in all three of the synoptic gospels also in Thomas. The mustard seed parable is a typically "paradoxical" parable, with the great kingdom coming from something so tiny. Can you find other examples of paradoxical language in the other parables here in Thomas?

Patterson and Meyer translation:

The disciples said to Jesus, "Tell us what Heaven's kingdom is like." He said to them, "It's like a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds, but when it falls on prepared soil, it produces a large plant and becomes a shelter for birds of the sky."

Mary said to Jesus, "What are your disciples like?" He said, "They are like little children living in a field that is not theirs. when the owners of the field come, they will say, "Give us back our field." They take off their clothes in front of them in order to give it back to them, and they return their field to them."

"For this reason I say, if the owners of a house know that a thief is coming, they will be on guard before the thief arrives and will not let the thief break into their house and steal their possessions. As for you, then, be on guard against the world. Prepare yourselves with great strength, so the robbers can't find a way to get to you, for the trouble you expect will come."

"Let there be among you a person who understands. When the crop ripened, he came quickly carrying a sickle and harvested it. Anyone here with two good ears had better listen!"

Jesus saw some babies nursing. He said to his disciples, "These nursing babies are like those who enter the kingdom." They said to him, "Then shall we enter the kingdom as babies?" Jesus said to them, "When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, and when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male nor the female be female, when you make eyes in place of an eye, a hand in place of a hand, a foot in place of a foot, an image in place of an image, then you will enter [the kingdom]."


Lambdin translation:

The disciples said to Jesus, "Tell us what the kingdom of heaven is like." He said to them, "It is like a mustard seed. It is the smallest of all seeds. But when it falls on tilled soil, it produces a great plant and becomes a shelter for birds of the sky."

Mary said to Jesus, "Whom are your disciples like?" He said, "They are like children who have settled in a field which is not theirs. When the owners of the field come, they will say, 'Let us have back our field.' They (will) undress in their presence in order to let them have back their field and to give it back to them.

Therefore I say, if the owner of a house knows that the thief is coming, he will begin his vigil before he comes and will not let him dig through into his house of his domain to carry away his goods. You, then, be on your guard against the world. Arm yourselves with great strength lest the robbers find a way to come to you, for the difficulty which you expect will (surely) materialize.

Let there be among you a man of understanding. When the grain ripened, he came quickly with his sickle in his hand and reaped it. Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear."

Jesus saw infants being suckled. He said to his disciples, "These infants being suckled are like those who enter the kingdom." They said to him, "Shall we then, as children, enter the kingdom?" Jesus said to them, "When you make the two one, and when you make the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside, and the above like the below, and when you make the male and the female one and the same, so that the male not be male nor the female female; and when you fashion eyes in the place of an eye, and a hand in place of a hand, and a foot in place of a foot, and a likeness in place of a likeness; then will you enter the kingdom."


Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • what happens to the mustard seed as it grows?
  • what do the children do when the owners of the field return?
  • what do people do when they know that a thief is coming?

Source: Gospel of Thomas 20-22.
The "Scholars' Translation" of the Gospel of Thomas by Stephen Patterson and Marvin Meyer, in The Complete Gospels: Annotated Scholars Version. Polebridge Press: 1992. Website: Gospel of Thomas Homepage.
"Nag Hammadi Library" translation by Thomas O. Lambdin, in The Nag Hammadi Library. HarperCollins: San Francisco, 1990. Website: Gnostic Society Library.


Modern Languages MLLL-2003. World Literature: Frametales. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:48 PM