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

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

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

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

Will they produce fruit?

Commentary. Matthew 13 is a “day of parables.” The parable of the sower is spoken in public to great crowds (vv. 1–3), but its explanation and the teaching about parables are spoken only to the disciples (vv. 10–11). More parables are then spoken to ‘the crowds’ (v. 34), but the crowds are again left behind (v. 36), and the second explanation and further parables are spoken to the disciples in ‘the house’ (which Jesus had left in v. 1). The unresponsive crowds are thus clearly distinguished from the disciples to whom alone explanation is given, and this distinction is spelt out in vv. 11–17. Continue reading

A sower went out to sow…

Matthew 13:1–23 1 On that day, Jesus went out of the house and sat down by the sea.2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat down, and the whole crowd stood along the shore.3 And he spoke to them at length in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up.5 Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep,6 and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots.7 Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it.8 But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.9 Whoever has ears ought to hear.” Continue reading

What is a Parable?

In the weeks to come we will hear a number of parables as part of the Gospel. So, what is a “Parable”? Definition: “At its simplest a parable is a metaphor or simile drawn from nature or common life, arresting the hearer by its vividness or strangeness, and leaving the mind in sufficient doubt about its precise application to tease it into active thought.” (C. H. Dodd, The Parables of the Kingdom, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1961, p. 5) Less accurate, but perhaps more to the point – when heard, a parable should give you pause and turn your world upside down. Continue reading

Take my yoke: invitation

Yoke 3Jesus’ Invitation. The last three verses of the chapter contain many echoes of the invitation of Jesus Ben Sira (Sir 51:23–27; cf. also Sir 6:24–31) for men to come and learn from him and take up wisdom’s yoke, so that they may find rest. No doubt Jesus and his hearers knew and valued this book, but Jesus’ invitation reveals a higher authority: it is his own yoke that he offers, and he himself gives the rest which Ben Sira had to win by his ‘little labors’. Continue reading

Take my yoke: commentary

Yoke 3Commentary. Despite the rejection in vv.20-24, some persons accept Jesus’ mission and message – and it is for this that he gives praise to God. In context these words are not a prayer of thanksgiving for a successful mission (cf. Lk 10:21-22), but are a prayerful reflection on the failure of the Galilean mission. The prayers highlight another Matthean theme: reversal. Those who are considered wise and learned are in fact not – at least in the things of the kingdom of heaven. Yet those who are childlike have understood and accepted the revelation of the kingdom in the person of Jesus Continue reading