Last week the reading was from Matthew 13: 1-9, the parable of the Sower and then verses 18-23 where Jesus explained the parable to the disciples. This week we read Matthew 13: 24-43 which included three parables and an explanation of the first one. As Christians I am sure that we are all used to hearing the parables and we are all capable of explaining them to others, but how would we define a parable to a visitor from outer space? In religious terms a parable can be defined as “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning”. A non religious definition is “a short allegorical story designed to convey a truth or moral lesson”. Thus parables can be found in all areas of life and all cultures. Finally it is worth noting that the word parable comes from the Greek parabole which conveys a sense of mysterious sayings which do not carry their meaning on the surface. They need to be interpreted and the challenge is to penetrate the meaning, which is why a parable without explanation can enlighten some and leave others unmoved. Now to the question that I want to consider today. Why did Jesus so often use parables in his teaching, especially when he had to explain them to his disciples? If they did not understand when they were with him every day what hope was there for people who may only have heard him once and that as part of a large open air crowd? This is a question that the disciples asked in Matthew 13: 10-18 which we did not read last week and Jesus answered by saying that he did not expect everyone to understand. He also quoted from Isaiah to support this. (Read ). So, two reasons that Jesus gave for using parables were to “enlighten those whose hearts were sincere and receptive and who were hungering and thirsting for righteousness (Matt 5:6)1 And to encourage people to think. He knew that many would not understand them at the time but they would have a simple story that they could take home and think about later. Another reason to use a parable was that this form of teaching separated Jesus from the religious powers of the day. Jesus was teaching people in the everyday language and experience that they understood, whereas the religious leaders tended to use more esoteric language. Parables also made it more difficult for the authorities to charge him with any crimes. By couching his message as a simple story that needed to be interpreted by the listener there was nothing the lawyers could charge him with. The parable that we heard today spoke of people being divided into two groups at the end of time with the non believers being permanently destroyed. I am not sure if people will actually be thrown into a fiery pit, there is a belief amongst many non believers that at death they will just cease to be. Perhaps that is all that will happen but whatever the outcome there will be a division and Jesus was acknowledging this eventual division when he told parables. The people who heard the parable had to make a choice about whether they would open their eyes to enlightenment or close them more firmly. As one source that I referenced said “The parables not only make people think they also make them choose. They bring them out of the grey area into the clearly black or white. The parables were a winnowing fork for Jesus by which he was able to separate the wheat from the chaff.” Finally, as was clearly shown in Matthew 13: 10-17 and again in verses 34-35 which we read today Jesus was guided in his ministry by prophesies about his coming. He had to teach in parables to fulfil those prophesies. (Read 34-35)
1 Simplybible.com Why did Jesus speak in parables
We know that what you get out of an activity depends on what you put into it and V12 “to those who have more, more will be given” says the same thing. Jesus explained the parables to his disciples because this helped them to become enlightened. While not deliberately trying to exclude other people from the group of the enlightened Jesus plainly wanted them to put the same sort of effort into enlightenment as the disciples were. The disciples had given up everything to follow Jesus and other more ordinary people had to make a similar if different contribution. While this brief excursion into why Jesus taught in parables may be of academic interest there is another question that needs to be asked of this particular chapter. Why does the gospel devote so much time to explaining why parables were important? To answer this we need to remember that the gospels were written after the events that they record and after the church had grown and spread throughout the then known world. As my bible commentary says “The gospels were written by believers … and their aim was to either win new converts or to encourage and direct those already committed to the church into more effective discipleship.”2 Chapters 11 and 12 had shown that there were a variety of reactions to Jesus' teaching with deep divisions arising in the community. This was also the experience of the early church. While it is impressive when we hear that 3000 people were baptised on one day (Acts 3:41) we also learn from Paul's letters that the Jews sometimes hired rent-a- crowd to chase believers out of town and we know from history that persecution by the Romans was soon to follow. Thus the early church could be forgiven for thinking that it was failing in its ministry of discipleship because it had not convinced everyone of the truth of Jesus message. By giving examples of Jesus' teaching with respect to parables and recording his acceptance and acknowledgement that many would close both eyes and ears to their meaning the gospel is trying to encourage the early church to remain positive and keep teaching in the hope that a few people would choose to believe. The early church also needed to be reminded that Jesus was prepared to give non believers time to change their minds. If we look at today's parable the weeds were allowed to grow with the wheat until the final harvest. Unfortunately, the parables no longer reflect the life experiences of all who hear them but that means that we have to work harder to explain and that those who hear need to work harder to understand. While the majority of people no longer live in a subsistence agricultural world we are able to understand that lifestyle so we can continue to use the stories. The challenge for those of us who know the parables so well is to still try to learn from them. To resist the temptation to think “oh its the sower of seed again” or “the weeds in the crop again” and either switch of or revert to childhood thoughts. I never could understand why the sower was so stupid that he actually spread the seed on the path. And why did the master think that an enemy had planted weed seed in his field. It was more likely that the labourers had failed to remove all of last year's weeds before they seeded! However, if we concentrate we can still learn. For example, last week John suggested that we can change the soil that we are to a better one, I had not thought of that. Also those who reject the message can later listen to it and even the weeds can change. I thought of them in terms of the weeds that smother my garlic but my Commentary suggested that they were probably darnel which looks like wheat in early growth. That made me think, wheat was developed from primitive grass so would it be possible for the darnel or other primitive grass to turn into wheat during the growing season?
2 New Bible Commentary. Carson DA, France RT, Motyer JA, Wenham GJ
So, parables are still important and we can still learn from them. Joan Rodrigues