The parables of the Savior have more meaning to us if we have “lived” them or seen them lived or fulfilled by others close to us. When this happens, they become more than just a beautiful and simple instructive device; they become real to us. For example, the parable of the prodigal son (see Luke 15:11–32) will ever have special meaning to the parent of a wayward son or daughter who has returned to the fold of Christ. And the parable of the sower (see Luke 8:4–15) will mean more to a young person who becomes a missionary and experiences the sorrow of watching the gospel seed sprout in the heart of an investigator, only to soon wither away.
There is a series of short parables given by the Savior that I feel I have “lived” in some small way. Perhaps you have lived them too. They are parables about the establishment of the kingdom of God in the latter days and feature a mustard seed, leaven, hidden treasure, a pearl of great price, and a fishing net.
We are indebted to the Prophet Joseph Smith for the inspired light that illuminates our understanding of these parables. His comments help us clearly see how they apply in our day.
“The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field:
“Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof” (Matt. 13:31–32).
Concerning this parable the Prophet said, “Now we can discover plainly that this figure [parable] is given to represent the Church as it shall come forth in the last days.” The Prophet then made a particular application of the parable. Not only did the mustard seed represent the kingdom of heaven; the Prophet also compared the mustard seed to the Book of Mormon: “Let us take the Book of Mormon, which a man took and hid in his field, securing it by his faith, to spring up in the last days, or in due time; let us behold it coming forth out of the ground, which is indeed accounted the least of all seeds, but behold it branching forth, yea, even towering, with lofty branches, and God-like majesty, until it, like the mustard seed, becomes the greatest of all herbs. … It has sprouted and come forth out of the earth, and righteousness begins to look down from heaven, and God is sending down His powers, gifts and angels, to lodge in the branches thereof.”1
My “living” of this parable began some 40 years ago with my service as a full-time missionary in Argentina. In the course of traveling home to Arizona, I passed through several South American countries. In many of those countries I found no missionaries, no members, not even the slightest trace of the presence of the restored Church of Jesus Christ. Even though missionary work in South America had begun in 1925, 37 years later the Church existed in only a few of the countries there, with just seven missions. There were no high priests or patriarchs because there were no stakes, and the nearest temple was thousands of miles away in Mesa, Arizona. I came away from my mission with an abiding love for the people and cultures of South America but with a special interest in the spreading of the gospel on that continent.
Since my mission I have had the privilege of living and working in South America for 19 years. With amazement and fascination I have watched and had a small part in the astounding growth of the Church there. It has been particularly impressive to me to watch the crucial role of the Book of Mormon in this growth. Today the Church is firmly established in every nation on that continent. There are more than 550 stakes, 13 temples, 69 missions, and millions of Latter-day Saints. Truly the “least of all seeds” has become the “greatest among herbs” and is a tree into which God is sending down His powers, gifts, and angels. And the strength of the Church in South America is but a part of what is happening throughout the world as the kingdom rolls forth in “God-like majesty.”
“The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened” (Matt. 13:33).
The Prophet Joseph Smith saw a special meaning in the Savior’s mention of three measures of meal: “It may be understood that the Church of the Latter-day Saints has taken its rise from a little leaven that was put into three witnesses. Behold, how much this is like the parable! It is fast leavening the lump, and will soon leaven the whole.”2
As those who bake know, the leaven, or yeast, is a very small part of the recipe to make bread. However, that tiny bit of ingredient is what makes the dough rise so that when it comes out of the oven it is several times its original size and is light and enjoyable to eat.
What a blessing the Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon must have been to the Prophet and other converts in those early days of the Church! They were men who had heard the voice of God, who had seen the angel Moroni, and who knew beyond doubt the divinity of the Book of Mormon and the call of Joseph Smith as a prophet.
In my years of working and serving in Latin America, I have watched the Lord raise up a few very special men and women from a small body of members and make of them great leaders. Over the years they have truly served as “leaven” for the growth and strength of the Church. I have come to love and appreciate these people who have generally been eager to share the gospel and bear testimony of this work. Likewise, if we will freely and frequently share our testimonies with others, we can serve as leaven to build and strengthen the Church wherever we are, contributing to the leavening of the whole.
“The kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls:
“Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it” (Matt. 13:44–46).
These two parables differ in that the man who found the treasure seems to have done so quite by accident, whereas the merchant man found the pearl after diligent searching.
In both cases the price of acquisition was exactly the same—all that each man had.
Concerning the interpretation of these parables, the Prophet said: “See the Church of the Latter-day Saints, selling all that they have, and gathering themselves together unto a place that they may purchase for an inheritance, and that they may be together and bear each other’s afflictions. … See men traveling to find places for Zion and her stakes or remnants, who, when they find the place for Zion, or the pearl of great price, straightway sell that they have, and buy it.”3
In the countries of Latin America, it is not unusual for a member of a family to be disowned or ostracized after leaving the traditional church to join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I have seen people lose their friends, be excluded and persecuted by neighbors, and lose employment because they have embraced the restored gospel, their treasure and pearl. They have had to pay the price in full measure.
When we lived in Peru, the nearest temple was a continent away in São Paulo, Brazil. I know Saints who literally sold all they had in order to take their families to the temple. I once dined in the home of such a family. The cleanly swept floor was of hard-packed dirt. A simple meal of chicken soup was to me a true banquet. The walls of the home were of rough-hewn boards, but adorning those walls were a photograph of the temple and the certificate attesting the family’s temple sealing. I marveled at their willingness to sacrifice.
“The kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind:
“Which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away.
“So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just,
“And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 13:47–50).
Concerning the fishermen in this scene, the Prophet Joseph Smith said, “Behold the seed of Joseph, spreading forth the Gospel net upon the face of the earth, gathering of every kind, that the good may be saved in vessels prepared for that purpose, and the angels will take care of the bad.”4
I have seen all kinds of people brought into the Church by the gospel net—men, women, and children of all races, cultures, education levels, and economic circumstances. My experience has taught me that while nearly all new converts join the Church with good intentions, they, like the rest of us, are not perfect. It is not enough to be baptized into the true Church. Baptism is merely the gate to the “strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life” (2 Ne. 31:18). Striving to stay on the path, never giving up, pressing “forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope” (2 Ne. 31:20) are what enable us to be among the good who will be gathered into vessels.
What a marvelous wealth of understanding and perspective comes to us from the parables of the Savior. How blessed we are to have modern prophetic assistance as we search the scriptures. These parables have rich, personal meaning for me because I, and those I love so dearly in South America, have “lived” them. Perhaps you have lived them too.