Chapter 13 of contains the third teaching section of Matthew it is mostly parables. A “parable” differs from a “fable.” Both are stories with meaning beyond the story itself, but the difference lies in the fact that a parable can be a true story; a fable never can. We have an example of a fable in Judges 9. There, Jotham tells a story involving talking plants. The story has meaning, but it is not a true story.
A parable on the other hand is a story taken from everyday life. It can be a true story, and you never know whether Jesus is simply drawing on his observations about life, or if he really has someone in mind.
In this only teaching section where Jesus addresses the crowds rather than just his disciples, Jesus deliberately speaks in such a way as to obscure his message. He admits to this in verses 11-15. In his explanation, he says the message is obscured because of the hearts of his listeners are hardened against his message. They aren’t seeing the way he sees, nor listening to what he has to say.
In reaching lost people, Christian people are often accused of using “religious” language – unintelligible to the unchurched. I believe our critics are correct, but I also believe there is little way around this. Our perspective is different from the unchurched. So is our value system. It is difficult for them to understand us. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to reach them. After all, even Jesus’ disciples had difficulty understanding what Jesus was saying. But in time, they got it. To reach lost people, we have to be aware of how much separation there really is between us and build bridges to help them cross, recognizing that ultimately, we are dependent on God for success. That’s what the parable of the mustard seed is all about.