We recently celebrated Father’s Day, and since I’ve been thinking a great deal about Jesus’ parables lately, my thoughts went to the Parable of the Mustard Seed. The parable is indicative of the origins of Father’s Day. That connection might seem a little odd, at first, but let me explain.
Jesus said, “To what shall we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable can we use for it? It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.”
The long-held view of the parable is that it’s a teaching about something that begins very small but grows to be very large. And, it certainly has elements of that principle. However, as we’ve learned more and more about the culture and times in which Jesus lived, we come to understand this parable quite differently.
In ancient Israel, mustard was not a spice but a medicinal substance which grew in the wild.
In ancient Israel, mustard, known then as chardal (sometimes spelled hardal), was a medicinal substance, not a spice – when ground into a paste and wrapped in a cloth it was applied to areas of the body hurting from an injury or arthritis. Mustard grew so abundantly in the wild that it was regarded as a weed. (1) So, for someone to deliberately plant a mustard seed was something most unexpected.
Further, in telling the parable, Jesus said that the mustard plant “puts forth large branches so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade” [Mk 4:32b]. Yet, the oil from the leaves of the mustard bush is so chemically active that birds don’t normally nest there. So, when heard in its original context, the parable is about some great unanticipated behavior or good resulting from something most unexpected.
The parable was a proclamation by Jesus that God has acted in a most unexpected way and it would result in unanticipated behavior and great good.
Jesus was sharing this parable as a teaching about the Kingdom of God. Well, to bring about the Kingdom, God did something most unexpected. He came into the world as man to redeem us from our sins. And in the Kingdom, much good comes of it: people live out the will of God in great numbers; and unexpectedly for Jesus’ Jewish listeners, all are welcome. So, rather than the parable being a nice story about agriculture, it was actually a proclamation by Jesus that God has acted in a most unexpected way and it would result in unanticipated behavior and great good.
The origins of Father’s Day, much like the parable, is a story about great good coming out of something most unexpected.
The origins of Father’s Day, much like the parable, is a story about great good coming out of something most unexpected. Let me share with you why. On December 6, 1907, there was a violent explosion of coal dust in the underground Fairmont Coal Mine in Monongah, West Virginia. Hundreds of workers were killed in that explosion. And, when an explosion occurs underground, all the oxygen in the air is quickly used up. Dozens of would-be rescuers who rushed into the mine to find survivors suffocated from lack of oxygen. That day, more than a thousand children in the local community lost their fathers in the mine disaster. The Monongah Accident is, to this day, the worst mining tragedy in US history.
In those days, there was no Workman’s Compensation insurance or Social Security benefits. So, in the year following the disaster, one of the local residents of Monongah, Grace Clayton, convinced the town to hold a community event to support those children who lost their fathers in the mine. And, she chose to call the occasion “Father’s Day.” (2)
Rather than to celebrate fathers, the original Father’s Day was intended to support those who lost their fathers.
So, rather than to celebrate fathers, the original Father’s Day was intended to support those who lost their fathers. Much good came from a most unexpected beginning. Well, Father’s Day quickly spread across the US and, in communities outside of Monongah, the focus of the day was on honoring fathers rather than on supporting those who lost their fathers. By 1916, President Woodrow Wilson proposed Father’s Day as a national holiday; but it was not until 1966 that it was officially observed on the third Sunday of June.
Over the years, Father’s Day has become a far-cry from its humble beginnings in Monongah, West Virginia. So, in keeping with the original purpose of Fathers Day, I ask God to bless all who have lost their fathers.
'Till next time.
Dcn. Bob Evans
June 21. 2019
1. G. Vaughan & J.S. Hemingway, The Utilization of Mustards, 1959.
2. Davitt McAteer, Monongah: The Tragic Story of the 1907 Monongah Mine Disaster, 2007.
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