Harvest parables: mustard seed and yeast

mustard plantsThe Mustard Seed and Yeast. There is much debate over the meaning of these two short parables. Some Christians believe that the imagery of the parables is meant to portray the presence of evil within professing Christendom. This is due primarily to an understanding of the Kingdom of Heaven as a “mystery” encompassing Christendom, understood as organized Christianity. Christendom as a whole contains evil elements mixed with the good, so both parables are usually viewed as picturing that evil. The birds nesting in the mustard tree are unbelievers. It is also pointed out that yeast is often a symbol of evil (Exod 12:15, 19; Matt 16:6, 11–12; 1 Cor 5:6–8; Gal 5:9; but see Lev 7:13–14; 23:17) and asserted that the parable of the yeast portrays the growth of evil within Christendom. This view of the parables is often held in conscious opposition to a view which understands the images of the growth of the Kingdom in the two parables as indicating the ultimate conversion of the world to Christianity before Christ returns. Continue reading

Harvest parables: beyond our calling

wheatOur Impatience with the Weeds. The landowner (God) is quite patient and accepts that there will be “weeds” among the harvest – it is the lot of the human enterprises. Some people do not/will not/cannot hear the Word sown in to their lives. The laborers in the parable are quick to want to eradicate the poison. I think history has shown that we reach beyond our calling – not to simply point out error – but to extinguish the source and root of that error. In the first centuries of the Church, when some of the epic battles over theological orthodoxy and heresy were waged, executions were not part of the Church’s response. There might be condemnation, banishment and loss of position, but people were not put to death. Yet a millennia later the island nation of England has its book of Protestant and Catholic martyrs as witness to our human reaction to “weeds” among us, despite the Gospel message. Continue reading

How do we know?

At that time Jesus exclaimed: “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.” (Mt 11:25-27)

The “wise and learned” are not named, but I suspect they are the folks in the towns mentioned in yesterday’s gospel: “Jesus began to reproach the towns where most of his mighty deeds had been done, since they had not repented. ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida!’”  Too wise and learned to be taken in by that huckster from Galilee. Continue reading

Harvest parables: wheat and tares

wheatCommentary. Although our gospel text does not seem to indicate the audience, v.34 (All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables) does make it clear that the hearers are not the disciples alone, but that the crowd is again and active participant. Given the disciples’ question: “Why do you speak to them in parables?” (v.10) and the fact that Jesus is again speaking in parables, it is clear that a larger audience is present.

Weeds Among the Wheat. This parable is unique to Matthew and unlike the other evangelists who also tell a pericope of the “Sower and the Seed,” Matthew’s use and placement of this unique parable seems to serve as a reinforcement of the themes of on-going conversion (understanding, action, joy, perseverance in suffering brought about by tribulation or persecution, and ultimately bearing fruit superabundantly. The context of the parable is clearly “in the world” that place where anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit (v.22). Continue reading

The harshest words

Jesus began to reproach the towns where most of his mighty deeds had been done, since they had not repented. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida!” (Mt 11:20)

The opposition to Jesus’ ministry is beginning to grow. People are pushing back, asking for more signs, accusing Jesus of being in league with Satan, holding back refusing to believe, and all manner of other things. The division Jesus spoke about in yesterday’s gospel are becoming clear and present. In the midst of these encounters comes the ominous words: woe to you. Continue reading

Harvest parables: context

wheatMatthew 13:24–3324 He proposed another parable to them. “The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off. 26 When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well. 27 The slaves of the householder came to him and said, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where have the weeds come from?’ 28 He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ His slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ 29 He replied, ‘No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, “First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn.”’” 31 He proposed another parable to them. “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. 32 It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the ‘birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.’” 33 He spoke to them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened.” Continue reading

Preparing good soil

In the chapters and verses leading up to today’s Gospel, opposition is growing, pushing back against Jesus and his ministry. Some do not like that he has cured people on the Sabbath or that Jesus emphasizes mercy and compassion over rules and regulations. Things get pretty rancorous; some go as far as to accuse Jesus of being in league with Satan. Other just keep asking for another miracle, another sign. And yet others believe. Through all of this, Jesus keeps sowing the seeds of faith. Continue reading

Incredibly Special

In the 2004 movie, The Incredibles – and if you haven’t seen it… well, just stop reading this, go find a copy, and watch a great movie. Anyway, where was I…. there is a scene in the movie when Dash Parr, the super-powered speedster son of Bob Parr (Mr. Incredible) and his wife Helen (Elastigirl), has just been told to hide his incredible speed and let the other kids have a chance at winning so that he can fit in and be normal. When Dash resists the suggestion noting that his speed makes him special, this dialogue ensues:

Helen/Elastigirl: “Everyone is special, Dash.”
Dash: “That’s just another way of saying no one is.” Continue reading

Saints and Halos?

I have to admit that I never wondered about the depiction of saints and their halos. It was just the way things were. True, but it is not the way things always were. Ever wonder why halos? Philip Kosloski over at Aleteia supplied an answer the question I did not know I wanted to ask.

“And did you know that not all halos are circular? The different shapes convey different meanings. Continue reading

From mystery to Truth

The Purpose of the Parables. Verses 10-17 are formally an interlude between the first parable and its explanation, but they are essential to the understanding of the chapter as a whole, as they set out the division between the enlightened disciples and the unresponsive crowd which is the focus both of the structure of the chapter and of much of its contents.

Unlike the telling of the parable, this is a private conversation between Jesus and the disciples who have initiated the conversation with the direct question: Why do you speak to them in parables? One presumes that the disciples have noticed that some of the listeners are perplexed and do not understand. – so why use this cryptic form of teaching rather than plain statement? Continue reading