Teaching how to draw leaves,
from the Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting,
After the teaching materials of the Chinese painter Li Liufang (1575-1629),
and commissioned Wang Gai (1645-1707)
Reprinted in 1888
© Lisa Sainsbury Library
The kingdom of God is a mustard seed growing into the biggest shrub of all
Jesus said to the crowds: ‘This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man throws seed on the land. Night and day, while he sleeps, when he is awake, the seed is sprouting and growing; how, he does not know. Of its own accord the land produces first the shoot, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. And when the crop is ready, he loses no time: he starts to reap because the harvest has come.’
He also said, ‘What can we say the kingdom of God is like? What parable can we find for it? It is like a mustard seed which at the time of its sowing in the soil is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet once it is sown it grows into the biggest shrub of them all and puts out big branches so that the birds of the air can shelter in its shade.’
Using many parables like these, he spoke the word to them, so far as they were capable of understanding it. He would not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything to his disciples when they were alone.
Reflection on the Chinese Painting Manual
Our artwork is showing a page from the ‘Manual of the Mustard Seed Garden’, a printed manual of Chinese painting compiled during the early Qing Dynasty (1636–1912). The title of the book comes from the mansion known as Jieziyuan or the Mustard Seed Garden owned by the novelist Li Yu (1611-1688). They were important books showing the art of drawing, and were reprinted over and over in China and Japan. The manual was a major tool in the training of artists. The manual would take the pupil from drawing a very simple leaf (as illustrated), towards being able to paint a highly detailed tree and eventually depicting filly coloured, highly detailed landscape gardens.
These various stages that the pupil would be taken through, is exactly what Jesus is describing in our Gospel reading today. A mustard seed has a simple start, and when we plant it well and nurture it well, then that seed will grow and blossom into a complex but yet beautiful tree. Our spiritual lives can start with a very simple prayer or devotion, and grow into something wonderfully intricate, rich and beautiful too.
Jesus is saying that when we sow seeds of faith, hope and love around us, we may not always see if the seeds start growing or not, but more is always happening than we realise: God is at work and he will put things in bloom!
Share this Gospel Reading
Did you like this Gospel reading and art reflection?
Join in the discussion about this artwork & Gospel reading
Readings related to Mark 4:26-34
Join our community
In addition to receiving our Daily Gospel Reading and Art Reflection, signing up for a free membership allows you to: