Tag Archives: Matthew 13

Matthew 13: 54-58 Rejecting Wisdom

By Meister der Kahriye-Cami-Kirche in Istanbul – The Yorck Project (2002) 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei (DVD-ROM), distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH. ISBN: 3936122202., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=155126

Matthew 13: 54-58

Parallels Mark 6: 1-6a; Luke 4: 16-30

54 He came to his hometown and began to teach the people in their synagogue, so that they were astounded and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these deeds of power? 55 Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56 And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this?” 57 And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor except in their own country and in their own house.” 58 And he did not do many deeds of power there, because of their unbelief.

The rejection of Jesus by those in his hometown or country (Greek patrida literally fatherland is behind both words in this narrative) fits within the overall flow of the gospel of Matthew’s structure which existed prior to the chapter divisions and this short narrative of the rejection in Nazareth combined with the death of John the Baptist set the stage for the next group of stories of Jesus’ power and reflections on faith. Throughout the parables we have been warned that many will not have ears to hear, eyes to see or hearts to understand. For the people of Jesus’ hometown familiarity with the relations of Jesus becomes the ‘stumbling block’ or ‘scandal’ (Greek skandalizo) which makes them unable to receive the wisdom that Jesus offers them, presumably in parables.

Earlier in response to the crowd, notably after the disciples of John the Baptist come to him. Jesus would say, “Yet wisdom is vinidicated by her deeds.” (11:19) Now the ones in his hometown recognize both wisdom and the deeds of power, and yet they are unable to receive him. Their unbelief (literally unfaith or lack of faith) it not due to the lack of justification for faith, the wisdom and deeds of power are known and demonstrated even here. There may not be a large number of deeds of power where ‘all the sick’ will be healed as in other places but that is because their lack of faith. As I argued in talking about faith in Matthew’s gospel, faith is an openness or awareness to what God is doing in the world through the presence of Jesus. They are in a synagogue, they can perceive the wisdom and even the deeds of power, but they are unable to connect those realities to the kingdom of heaven’s presence in this one whose father was a laborer (we may associate carpenters with craftsmen, but in this time the Greek tekton is merely a builder/laborer) whose mother and brothers they can name and whose sisters are known among them.

There may be many reasons that people reject wisdom, many stumbling blocks that can cause them to fall, but this is still a world in which the harvest will occur. The seed may fall on the path, or the rocky soil or among the thorns but the sower continues to sow. The weeds and the wheat will grow up together, the mustard seed is sown among the massive field, and the yeast is hidden among the three measures of flour. One discovers a treasure, one a pearl of surpassing value, others good and bad fish that need to be sorted. Yet, even in the midst of no faith Jesus is still able to do something according to Matthew. In a change from Mark’s language where the lack of faith in his hometown makes Jesus unable to do any deeds of power (except for healing a few sick people), in Matthew’s gospel Jesus doesn’t do deeds of power there and the reason is ambiguous. Perhaps it is by choice, why do deeds of power where hearts cannot understand, eyes cannot see and ears cannot hear, perhaps their lack of openness to the kingdom creates a resistance to God’s activity in that place. Regardless there are other fields to tend to and so Jesus and his disciples go where the people are ready to be fed.

Matthew 13: 44-53 Treasures Old and New

By Brocken Inaglory – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2655938

Matthew 13: 44-53

44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46 on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; 48 when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

51 “Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” 52 And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” 53 When Jesus had finished these parables, he left that place.

This final set of three parables with a bonus image wraps up this block of teaching the crowds and disciples in parables. The careful hearer will hear several resonances between these images, which are unique to Matthew’s gospel, and other teachings of Jesus earlier in the gospel. Those who are scribes trained for the kingdom of heaven (literally disciple scribes of the kingdom of heaven) have learned from both the wisdom of scripture and the teaching of Jesus and have a rich storehouse of wisdom to bring forth into their life. As I continue to sit with these images I am aware that many have been unearthing the treasures hidden here for almost 2,000 years but I still find a rich storehouse of treasures waiting the patient seeker.

The first two images contrast with the previous earthy images in the extravagant image that is likened to the kingdom of heaven. The previous images have been very earthy, related to fields and baking, but here we are dealing with the discovery of treasures and pearls. The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure or a storehouse of treasure hidden in a field which compels that person to sell all they have to possess. The image of treasure may remind the attentive disciple to the words of Jesus in Matthew 6: 19-21 about storing up treasures in heaven rather than treasures on earth and about one’s heart being where one’s treasures are or Matthew 19:21 where Jesus in conversation tells a rich young man to sell his possessions to have treasure in heaven. The person in the parable is completely invested in their decision to purchase the field and possess the treasure. They have given up what they have to live on to possess the treasure, and while we might naturally think of this person selling off the treasure to live more abundantly the story ends with the person owning the field, the treasure and nothing else.

In a similar way the image of the person purchasing a pearl of great value takes us into an extravagant image that most of the people in Jesus’ audience couldn’t imagine. There is no undisputed mention of pearls in the Hebrew scriptures (the NRSV translates Job 28: 18 ‘the price of wisdom is above pearls’ but the words translated pearls is the Hebrew p’ninim which means jewels), but Matthew has used the image of casting ‘pearls before swine’ in Matthew 7:6. Pearls are produced by a non-kosher animal but wouldn’t be forbidden to wear by Jewish people, the problem with pearls is at this time they are more valuable than any other ‘fine jewels.’ They were simply unavailable for the average person. They may never see a pearl except in depictions of the very wealthy, much less one of exceeding value. (Levine, 2014, pp. 146-148) In modern settings we normally anticipate a person who is a merchant purchasing something of high value in order to sell it at a high cost, but few of us can imagine risking everything on one high priced item that literally bankrupts us, but the parable again shows no interest in selling the pearl. The person who was a merchant now gives all to possess this pearl of exceeding value that is qualitatively different from any other pearl or gemstone. Both individuals who sell everything desire to possess the discovered treasure and find themselves willing to empty out their storehouses to make space for this one thing.

The third image, which is given with interpretation, returns to the familiar realm of most of the people around Jesus, the image of fishing. The net thrown into the sea is a dragnet, not the small circular net cast into the sea for targeted fishing indicated earlier in the gospel. It is a net pulled behind or between boats gathering everything indiscriminately that is not too small for the net.  Nor does the Greek indicate that it caught fish of every kind, instead it simply says ‘all kinds/races gathered together’ (pantos genous sunagagouse). We may hear the echo of Jesus’ call to Peter and Andrew when he told them he would have them fish for people in Matthew 4: 19 and the explanation of this final parable indicates that it is indeed people instead of fish being sorted. In the explanation the angels are the sorters who gather the good ones into vessels and the bad ones are cast out into the fire. I do believe that Matthew wants us to hear that there is a consequence for failing to be righteous instead of evil, good instead of bad, having one’s hearts and treasures not invested in the approaching kingdom of heaven. Even in their way parables both conceal and reveal they are intended for those with ears to hear to become scribes learning the ways of the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew unearths some of these treasures for us to see and conceals others for those who trained to hear the scriptures of Israel in light of the new reality of the kingdom of heaven’s approach in Jesus. Matthew is trying to train us how to read scripture in the light of Jesus’ teaching and wisdom and give us a map to the storehouse of treasure or the pearl of exceeding value. Scribes trained to marvel at the pearls of wisdom contained in some of these earthy tales of sowing, baking and fishing and to delight in the presence of the kingdom in unexpected ways in the midst of the world. Perhaps that is a part of the reason that patient seekers continue to unearth unexpected treasures in these parables 2,000 years later.

Matthew 13: 24-43 Parables of Weeds, Seeds and Leaven

Close up view of Wheat, shared by user Bluemoose on Wiki Commons under Creative Commons 2.0

Matthew 13: 24-43

24 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27 And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 28 He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'”

31 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32 it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

33 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

34 Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing. 35 This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet: “I will open my mouth to speak in parables; I will proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world.”

36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38 the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42 and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!

One of the dangers of attempting to interpret parables which are designed both to reveal and to conceal comes with the pinning down the imagery to a meaning. Like a butterfly collector which pins their captures where they can be displayed only to realize the now deceased insect loses the life it once demonstrated, it may still be beautiful but is no longer a dynamic thing. As I have worked through the gospel of Matthew I have attempted to provide a coherent and plausible reading, but the perspective I write from is not the only one and others will and have found other dynamic readings in these verbal portraits of Jesus’ life and teaching. Yet, there are a number of interpretations of both Matthew’s gospel in general and these parables in particular which are not helpful (and may even be toxic) or would not make sense to people in either Jesus’ or Matthew’s audience in the first century middle east. Perhaps these reflections can help us metaphorically see some readings which look like wheat but are really just weeds that occupy the field hiding the fruit of the wheat from us.

It is important to pay attention to structure for clues in how we are to hear these parables and I’ve tried to group these together in ways that make sense to helping us have ears to hear. Matthew likes patterns of three and this is highlighted here by the placement of three parables followed by an explanation of the first parable. Between the three parables and the explanation is another explanation of why Jesus speaks in parables. The joining together of the parables in a group of three points to an interconnection in the imagery and understanding of the stories. Even though Matthew only includes an explanation for the first parable in this group, it is placed there by Matthew to be a key not only for the first parable but for a way of hearing all three parables. Similarly, the first parable of the chapter also provides a window into hearing all the parables gathered together in this chapter.

The opening parable of good seed, weeds and a field again places hearers to the familiar world of sowing and agriculture, yet it introduces an almost comic element when an enemy is responsible for sowing weeds among the field. Anyone who has done any type of agriculture work from a personal garden to industrial farming knows that weeds come whether they are sown or not, no one needs to sow tares; yet, in the world of this story, an enemy does just that. The wheat and the weeds grow up together in the field and the removal of one may mean the uprooting of the other. The householder, or the master of the house, has their slaves wait until the harvest time where the reapers can gather both wheat and weeds separately for different locations.

Matthew’s interpretation points to a world where the children of the kingdom and the children of evil live together. Matthew’s gospel repeatedly references a time of sorting or judgment where the righteous and the unrighteous are separated and God (or those sent by God like the angels) are responsible for that sorting. The gospel of Matthew has pointed to a vision for a community that lives out of a merciful but demanding righteousness and the community the gospel was written for lived in a world where many outside the community followed different visions for what a faithful life looked like. Matthew’s community may have also experienced competing expectations for what righteousness within the community and this parable may have allowed them to accept that both the church and the world were a mixed body until God separates weed from wheat, or in a later images the good fish from the bad fish and the sheep from the goats. As the imagery of the salt and light from Matthew 5: 13-16 point to the individuals and community are called to live out there calling and not to concern themselves with the disposition of the world around them. While they will be recognizable when mature by the fruit they produce, in contrast to the tares, they are not in charge of the time of harvest or the harvest itself. Ultimately any ingathering and separation is the responsibility of God and not the disciples.

The second parable again has the image of sowing in a field but this time what is sown is a mustard seed. Unfortunately, many interpreters get caught up on the mustard seed as being something undesirable in the field but the evidence this claim is built upon is pretty flimsy. Often the connection is made to Pliny the Elder, a Roman naturalist and philosopher, who said of mustard: “It grows entirely wild, though it is improved by being transplanted; but on the other hand when it has been once sown it is scarcely possible go get the place free of it, as the seed when it falls germinates at once.” Often missed is when Pliny also states mustard is “extremely beneficial for health”, helpful for the treatment of “snake and scorpion bites, toothache, indigestion, asthma, epilepsy, constipation, dropsy, lethargy, tetanus, leprous sores” and other illnesses (Levine, 2014, pp. 175-177) Nor was mustard looked upon as a bad or non-kosher thing.  The word translated shrub by the NRSV (and many translations) is the Greek laxanon which is a vegetable or garden herb. Perhaps the rendering of this a shrub adds to the perception of it uselessness which, in the case of brassica nigra “black mustard” grows into a plant of eight to ten feet when properly cultivated. Matthew has the vegetable (laxnon) become a tree (dendron) which may point in a mocking manner to imagery of great trees that represented empires in Ezekiel 31 and Daniel 4 but this is probably not the primary image that the parable draws us to.

If the field continues to be the world and the sower continues to be the Son of Man, which the parallel imagery invites, then the small thing planted in the field is something of use to the entire world.  As Amy Jill-Levine can state:

the mustard plant offers more than a single person can use. The invitation to partake is a universal one, as the birds so neatly demonstrate. Instead of looking at the plant as a noxious weed, we might be better off seeing it as a part of the gifts of nature; something so small, allowed to do what it naturally does, produce prodigious effects. (Levine, 2014, p. 181)

Maybe instead of being the weed no one wants in the field maybe the mustard seed is that which gives rise to a plant which once it emerges grows prodigiously producing with both curative and flavor producing properties meant to be shared among the creation of God, both birds of the air and the people of the earth. Perhaps, like the trees on either side of the river of life in Revelation 22, this small seed emerges as something for feeding creation and healing the nations. Perhaps this is part of the reason faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains for little faith ones (Matthew 17: 20)

Likewise the parable of the yeast has several unfortunate interpretations which misunderstand the place of leaven in Jewish culture. Amy Jill-Levine is again instructive here: “Leaven is not itself “impure”; if it were, Jews would not have to remove it from their homes at Passover, because they would never have used it in the first place.” (Levine, 2014) The cakes used on the altar  for the sacrifice of well-being were leavened (Leviticus 7: 13) and so leaven is not the ‘corrupting agent’ that sometimes interpretations make it out to be.

Leaven at this time is not the packets of yeast we think of in our time but a sourdough starter and the woman does not mix it into the flour, she hides it in the flower (Greek enkrypto where we get encryption or cryptology from). It is also helpful to realize that three measures of flour would be between forty and sixty pounds of flour, which again would be far more than one person could consume. There is a resonance with the story in Genesis 18 where Abraham encounters three men, who we learn to be a divine visitation, and instructs Sarah to make ready three measures of choice flour and proceeds with the bread and a calf, curds and milk to present a feast.  One of the images for the end of the age is of a great banquet, see for example Isaiah 55, and this woman in hiding the yeast in the three measures of flour is beginning the preparation for the feast to come.

In line with the previous two parables, if we want to move this towards an allegory, it would probably make sense to consider the flour the world with something hidden in it by a baker. If you want to proceed allegorically then the woman also represents the Son of Man, which may seem unsettling at first but we’ve already had Jesus adopt the character of Wisdom, and ultimately, as Anna Case-Winters can state,

It is interesting that many commentators and interpreters who work with these parables frequently draw an analogy between God and the male sowers in to of the parables (vv. 3 and 24) but do not draw an analogy between God and the female baker (v. 33) (Case-Winters, 2015, p. 180)

The position of this parable as the third in a series of three also invites us to see this is the image that Matthew has been moving us towards with the two previous parables.

Matthew also follows these parables by returning again to the reason for parables, which both reveal and conceal. As Frank Kermode observed, “Parable, it seems may proclaim a truth as a herald does and at the same time conceal truth like an oracle.” (Hays, 2016, p. 101) The dullness of the people, and the disciples even, may be tiresome and yet this may be the best way for the seed to be sown among those it can take root in.  Things hidden are proclaimed and yet they are proclaimed veiled in stories that require ears to hear and eyes to see and hearts to comprehend. They can continue to amaze and astonish as living things that fly just beyond our capture and demonstrate the beauty of the kingdom of heaven.

I believe these parables can continue to surprise and even delight us in their strange way of illuminating the kingdom of heaven’s place in our world. I’m hesitant to pin them down but perhaps I might point to some lessons that listening to these parables might teach us. First, they require patience, seed is allowed to grow until harvest, a seed grows to a bush and flour rises after leaven is added, none of which occur when we constantly unearth the seeds or disturb the flour. We may not always be directly involved in the state of the kingdom, if the Son of Man sows the seeds and hides the leaven we might just be observing something magical expanding in the world around us as a metaphor of the kingdom. But in the end the seeds and leaven, field and flour are all directed toward the final goal: harvests gathered into barns, bushes which produce flavorful and healing spices, and enough bread for a great celebration. We live in a world of good and evil living together and we may long for a time when all the “all causes of sin and all evildoers”(literally all scandals/causes of stumbling and the ones doing the works of this age) are removed and where the righteous ones shine like the sun but that rests in God’s time and judgment, but the world in which the parables are spoken, seeds are sown and flour rises to create bread for celebration requires the patience to live in a world where the kingdom of heaven emerges from the field of the world in unexpected ways.

 

 

Matthew 13: 1-23 Parable of the Sower

Red Clawson Wheat Seeds, image from https://greatlakesstapleseeds.com/products/red-clawson-wheat

Matthew 13: 1-23

Parallel: Mark 4: 1-20; Luke 8: 4-15

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2 Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6 But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 Let anyone with ears listen!”

10 Then the disciples came and asked him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11 He answered, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 13 The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’ 14 With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says:

‘You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive.15 For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn — and I would heal them.’

16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. 17 Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.

18 “Hear then the parable of the sower. 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23 But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

In Matthew’s gospel we are almost at the midpoint of the gospel when we encounter this first block of parables. This is the third of the blocks of teaching in Matthew (previously we have encountered the Sermon on the Mount and the Mission Discourse) but now we encounter three groups of parables grouped together with explanations of why Jesus teaches the crowd in this manner and explanation to the group of disciples. This first parable and explanations is mainly shared between Mark, Matthew and Luke with Matthew adding the text alluded to in Mark.

Our word parable comes from the Greek prefix para (along-side, together with) combined with the verb balo (to cast, to throw) and in Greek they are stories that cast two things alongside one another metaphorically. They are related to a long practice within and outside the bible of mashal, short stories used in instruction and teaching. They are not necessarily allegories where individual items represent something else (although the parable of the sower and the parable of the weeds below are disclosed as allegories by the interpretation provided in the gospels). Most of the parables we encounter will stand on their own without interpretation often acting like metaphors placing two things alongside each other to either reveal (or perhaps conceal) something about what Jesus is saying.

Unlike the Sermon on the Mount or the Mission Discourse where the primary audience is the disciples, now the primary audience is the crowds which approach Jesus. The teaching takes place while the crowd stands on the shoreline in Matthew while Jesus, and presumably his disciples, sits on a boat. It is likely that Jesus, like most storytellers, probably used these stories on multiple occasions and that they were an important part of his method of addressing the crowds that sought him. As a reader of the parables we are invited into the role of the disciple who has been given to know the secrets (literally mysteries) of the kingdom of heaven rather than the crowds who stand on the shoreline and many of whom, in the words of this first parable, will not grow deep roots or will endure only while it does not provoke trouble or tribulation.

Vincent van Gogh, The Sower with a Setting Sun

In contrast to the other parables in this chapter the parable of the sower is not placed alongside the kingdom of heaven explicitly in its proclamation. The short story told to the crowd simply begins in the familiar picture of a person sowing seed in anticipation of an eventual harvest. Without jumping ahead to the explanations that the gospels provide let’s look at this short story on its own. Hand sowing is done for wheat, barley and other grains and would’ve reflected one of the primary means of farming in the Middle East. Many of the festivals of the Jewish people are oriented around the harvest times for these sown crops and they were essential for the diet of the people Jesus speaks to. Although modern farming attempts to remove some of the variables in the soil by introducing fertilizers, planting at a preset depth and field preparation, even modern farmers will see areas of a field underproduce while others produce abundantly. But the sower in this parable casts the seed upon the field and its surroundings indiscriminately and the seed falls both in areas expected to provide growth and those that would be typically avoided (hardened paths or areas of brambles and thorns). The reality of rocks and undesired plants growing in a field may have been unavoidable, and yet, the sowing in portions of the field that are not anticipated to be good earth is probably intended to be the portion of the parable which introduces the dissonance to normal, more careful practices of preserving one’s seed where harvest is most likely.

Following the parable are two sets of explanations to the disciples. The audience has changed and those who are in the presence of Jesus are the ‘little faith ones’ who continue to follow him through his work and proclamation. The disciples, even in Matthew which has a more positive evaluation of them than Mark’s gospel, hardly prove to be paragons of understanding and yet it fits within the paradoxical world that Jesus proclaims where the Father has, “hidden these things from the wise and revealed them to infants.” (Matthew 11: 25). These ‘little faith ones’ are given the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. Matthew takes the allusion in Mark to Isaiah 6: 9-11 and makes it explicit. Isaiah 6: 9-11 is a part of the call of Isaiah which is less frequently heard where God says to Isaiah that paradoxically the lack of reception for Isaiah’s prophecy is a part of the divine plan. Here Isaiah and this first parable are brought together to speak to the reality of that God’s proclamation often falls upon dull hearts, closed ears and shut eyes. The call still goes for those who have ears to hear, eye to see and hearts to turn and yet even in the midst of places where the harvest is great, there will be surprising places where the word of the kingdom is not received, where faith is not found, or where the depth of understanding is shallow or where distractions or alternative values strangle the nascent faith.

The explanation of this parable as an allegory provides a key to understanding the parable. This may not be the only way that the parable was heard, but as readers we are invited to hear ourselves with the disciples as those who receive the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. The seed becomes the word of the kingdom, the proclamation of Jesus or the proclamation done by his disciples, which goes out into the world. We have already seen times where Jesus’ message is received with hostility and resistance and this will continue to be a reality, including later in this chapter in Jesus’ hometown. For those who are charged with casting this word into a waiting world one of the gracious pieces of this parable is that reception is not their responsibility. They are not responsible for preparing the soil, they are merely sowers casting the seed into the receptive or unreceptive earth. Some of the proclamation may have no perceived effect and lay lifeless on the ground to be snatched away by the forces opposed to the kingdom, at other times there may be a joyous reception followed be dashed hopes as the shallowness of the faith is revealed as times become difficult, sometimes other persuasive alternatives will turn people away from the kingdom. I’ve always found the description of the thorny ground as ‘the cares of the world and the lure of wealth’ enlightening for I think many modern Christians who follow a prosperity understanding of the gospel would think that being wealthy and being engaged in the world are fertile soil rather than soil that grows strangling weeds. Nonetheless, there continues to be a harvest for the times the proclamation meets those receptive, who are people where the seed can germinate and bear fruit and continue to give life to the world around them. In our modern mechanical understandings of farming, which reflect our modern understandings of our world, the farmer would probably force the field to yield its harvest, but these artificial methods have their cost to the long-term health of the field. Perhaps we modern proclaimers have also tried to force a reception of the kingdom only to find it shallow, choked or non-existent. Perhaps, in this ancient wisdom there is a permission to a more cooperative approach where both the seed and soil must work together and the sower in not ultimately responsible for the harvest, for that lies in the hands of the Father. Like in the Mission Discourse the sower, when they find a field that is not receptive to the seed, is simply to shake off the dust and proceed on to another field where the seed may thrive.

Images for the Sixth and Seventh Sunday after Pentecost-Lectionary 16 and 17A

Was out last week, but here are some images from the Sixth Sunday After Pentecost (Matthew 13: 13:24-30, 36-43)

James Tissot, The Enemy Who Sows (Between 1886 and 1894)

James Tissot, The Enemy Who Sows (Between 1886 and 1894)

Felician Rops, Satan Sowing Seeds (1872)

Felician Rops, Satan Sowing Seeds (1872)

Abraham Bloemaert, The Parable of the Wheat and Tares (1624)

Abraham Bloemaert, The Parable of the Wheat and Tares (1624)

Illustration from Martin Luther's time comparing the devil sowing seeds in the field to the sale of indulgences

Illustration from Martin Luther’s time comparing the devil sowing seeds in the field to the sale of indulgences

The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-53)

This is a series of parables which Jan Luyken has an illustration for each one

Jan Luyken, Parable of the Mustard Seek in the Bowyer Bible

Jan Luyken, Parable of the Mustard Seek in the Bowyer Bible

Jan Luyken etching Parable of the Leaven

Jan Luyken etching Parable of the Leaven

For the Treasure Hidden in the Field there are several images

Jan Luyken, etching, The Parable of the Hidden Treasure

Jan Luyken, etching, The Parable of the Hidden Treasure

possibly Rembrandt; possibly Gerard Dou, Parable of the Hidden Treasure (possibly 1630)

possibly Rembrandt; possibly Gerard Dou, Parable of the Hidden Treasure (possibly 1630)

John Everett Millais, The Hidden Treasure, 1864

John Everett Millais, The Hidden Treasure, 1864

Jan Luyken, etching, Parable of the Pearl of Great Price

Jan Luyken, etching, Parable of the Pearl of Great Price

Domenico Fetti, La Perle de grand prix

Domenico Fetti, La Perle de grand prix

Jan Luyken, etching, the Parable of the Dragnet

Jan Luyken, etching, the Parable of the Dragnet

The Kingdom of Fools

The Pearl of Great Price, engraving by John Everett Millais (1864)

The Pearl of Great Price, engraving by John Everett Millais (1864)

Into the fertile fields committed to the harvest wheat and tares are allowed to grow together
And the kingdom of heaven grows from the inconspicuous seed into the noxious bush
Making a mockery of the cedars of Lebanon or the towering cypress and majestic oaks
It bears no fruit and yet it grows resiliently much to the dismay of those who would cut it down
It is a foolish kingdom where a woman contaminates fifty pounds of flour with unclean leaven
Making that which could last throughout the year begin to mold and decay within a period of days
Perhaps only a kingdom filled with gluttons and tax collectors and sinners would merit
Such a wasteful exuberance, an amnesia of common sense and self-preservation
Only in a place where the harvest is thirty fold, or sixty fold or a hundred fold
Would such a feast be possible and such a kingdom endure for more than a fortnight
 
This scandalous kingdom where one finds what others have missed and to one’s profit
One goes to procure the field where the hidden treasure lays concealed from the world’s eyes
Where all common sense goes out the window to acquire a pearl of exceeding size
Laying aside the needs of the day and the needs of the future to acquire the one thing
The precious result of a long lasting irritant surrounded by the excretions of the fearful mollusk
And perhaps this foolish kingdom is less about some distant and unseen harvest where
Wheat is separated from weed and good fish from bad and fires and barns and markets are fed
But about the presence of the kingdom in the midst of all kinds of fish caught in the net
Where treasures new and old are brought out and put in the service of this crazy dream
And in the midst of the world which holds on with a death grip anxious for some feared future
The insane generosity and abundant belief begins to shape the lives and actions of the servants
Caught up in the inauguration of the kingdom of fools, disciples of a lord of foolish grace
And rather than being consumed by what to include and to exclude they learn to join the banquet
And to be a part of the kingdom that emerges slowly and patiently in their midst  
 
Neil White, 2014