|1 Kings 3:5,7-12|
The Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream and said, ‘Ask what you would like me to give you.’ Solomon replied, ‘O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in succession to David my father. But I am a very young man, unskilled in leadership. Your servant finds himself in the midst of this people of yours that you have chosen, a people so many its number cannot be counted or reckoned. Give your servant a heart to understand how to discern between good and evil, for who could govern this people of yours that is so great?’ It pleased the Lord that Solomon should have asked for this. ‘Since you have asked for this’ the Lord said ‘and not asked for long life for yourself or riches or the lives of your enemies, but have asked for a discerning judgement for yourself, here and now I do what you ask. I give you a heart wise and shrewd as none before you has had and none will have after you.’
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
13:31 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field;
13:32 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.”
13:33 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and hid in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”
13:44 “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.
13:45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls;
13:46 on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
13:47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind;
13:48 when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad.
13:49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous
13:50 and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
13:51 “Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.”
13:52 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.”
In the Name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.
“Persuaded that the true nature of things is not obvious, Jesus sets out, in word and deed, to fracture the hypnotic hold of life-as-it-has-always-been. He seeks to shift our attention, to alter our perception, to expand our awareness, to change our behaviour. Because he sanctions not the world as it is (where the kingdom is obscure) but only the world as it should be, when the kingdom will be all in all, he dislikes the default setting of our ordinary consciousness, whose defect is precisely that it accepts the present world as the real world. He is disconcerted that we see without seeing and fail to strive to enter through the narrow gate and that we are so wedded to everyday life and find so much comfort in material trinkets and the unstable circumstances of fleeting lives. So he constructs these parables, in the hope that we might begin to ponder soberly God’s reign, and perhaps even to seek it, and perhaps even to seek it above all else.” –Dale Allison Professor of New Testament Exegesis Pittsburgh Theological Seminary
“He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like…” (13:31) begins today’s gospel,
& with so few words we are immediately contextualized.
“Another”, we are still, as in these recent past two Sunday’s, in Matthew chapter 13, having heard the parable of the Sower & the Seed & then last Sunday, the parable of the Wheat & Tares. We may recollect that each of these two major parables also came with an allegorical interpretation after a gap, a few verses later. The first of these interpolations (13:10-16) answers why Teacher Jesus employs parables. Then follows the allegorical interpretation & then the pattern is repeated again; “Another parable he put before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to…” (13:24) parable of Wheat & Tares, interpolation (which is the first three verses of today’s gospel reading), then another comment on why parables, & then the allegorical interpretation, then the next sequences of three parables that continue today’s reading (13:44-48).
Unlike the first two major parables that come with allegorical interpretations, today’s five terser parables standalone without allegorical interpretations. They work better as true parables that should be treated metaphorically so that they engage and challenge us to consider what God’s dominion is like. In addition to the scenario that each parable constructs, connections with what we have learned about God’s empire in the Gospel’s previous chapters provide a key step in understanding meaning. They are interpreted by the context in which they presented. They rely upon the parabolic device itself. The kingdom is like… &, repeatedly, yet again, Jesus the Teacher is trying to reach us. Like the Sower of seed (13:3) he is persistent & unstinting. Five times in today’s reading we hear Teacher Jesus ,”The kingdom of heaven is like…” (13:31,33,44,45,47).
“The kingdom of heaven is like…” a tiny seed…
“The kingdom of heaven is like…” a lump of leaven…
“The kingdom of heaven is like…” a (hidden) treasure…
“The kingdom of heaven is like…” a desirable pearl…
“The kingdom of heaven is like…” an abundant catch…
A twin set of parables about growth, the tiny seed & the lump of leaven, then a gap (the allegorical interpretation of last Sunday’s parable), then a twin set of parables about discovery, the hidden treasure & valuable pearl. Then follows a throwback to the allegorical conclusion of the wheat & tares (13:40-43 & 49-50) “so will it be at the close of the age.” being repeated as the cue for harvesting angels appearance. Noting, as we did last Sunday, that this context establishes the eschatological setting that also interprets these parables.
Hence, the kingdom of heaven is like a tiny (micros) seemingly insignificant seed “that at the close of the age will be” a vast sheltering haven, an unexpected nurturing refuge. It is all about the perspective, from where you view the thing. The empire Teacher Jesus comes announcing in parables may currently seem miniscule & dwarfed by the overwhelming, dominating empire of Rome, but the good news is it is present in the here & now & has inestimable promised future potential. Jesus invites us to view things from God’s perspective. This parable affirms that although underestimated, God’s empire is nevertheless quietly at work and that it grows inevitably to become an accommodating bird sanctuary. There is contrast between the small beginnings and a large culmination. Those who think God is absent from the world or ineffective or impotent, the parable engages with a contrary affirmation and vision of God’s present activity and endgame.
Similarly, the kingdom of heaven is like a sour dough lump of leaven hidden in flour. What Jesus is talking about is leaven which is an old, molding lump of leftover bread. It is elsewhere used as a negative symbol of corruption. (Matthew 16:6; 1 Corinthians 5:8) It is a “woman” who takes this leaven and “hides” (not “mixes”) it in the flour. Given the cultural perspectives of Jesus’ day, all these details make it sound like something potentially sinister and furtive is going on. The only thing more astounding in this parable is that the woman uses “three measures” of wheat, enough to make bread to feed more than 100 people. A fore-hint of next Sunday’s abundance! (14:20,21). Another example of a little can eventually have a huge transformative impact! Yes, and it also indicates that the dominion of God may take hold in hidden and unexpected ways. Something small, eventually, in God’s good time, “the end of the ages”, has a remarkable, transformative, impact.
Jesus views earth from the vantage point of the kingdom of heaven and interprets the present by projecting himself into the future and then looking back. God who is above the world and within the world and is waiting at its end. Because God is in heaven and because the world to come has not yet come, neither reality is visible. So Jesus is always talking about things that eyes have not seen. He, like Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:18, looks not to the things seen but to the things unseen. It is understandable then that Jesus is above all an author of parables.
Relative to the larger amount of flour, suggesting the final eschatological vision of abundant food (Isaiah 25:6-10a), the yeast is only a small quantity. Yet its small presence has big effects. The woman literally “hides” the leaven in the flour. That which seems to be invisible is in fact mysteriously, inevitably, & faithfully performing its leavening work. The status quo does not remain unchanged. By means of a time-consuming process, all of the flour “was leavened.” The passive voice indicates God’s transformative work in the world.
ἐγκρύπτω (enkryptō) “Hidden” is the key connecting word in these parables. A woman “hides” the moldy lump in a superabundance of flour which it eventually thoroughly transforms & permeates. Then in the intervening verses, “All this Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed he said nothing to them without a parable. This was to fulfil what was spoken by the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables,
I will utter what has been (enkryptō) hidden since the foundation of the world.” (13:34,35). Then hidden reappears introducing the next parable; “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field” (13:44).
In the twin parables of discovery the element of the relative smallness of the present form of the kingdom continues. Likewise, there is continued emphasis on the element of hiddenness. But new emphases emerge, particularly the interplay of searching, finding, celebrating, (cf. Luke 15) and selling all in order to possess something of great value. The person who finds the treasure joyfully “sells all” to buy the field (13:44). The merchant “sold all” to buy the pearl. The discoveries disrupt normal daily life and priorities; they require risk and sacrifice. In these actions, the power of that which has been found is seen to be at work. The treasure and pearl possess the finders and shape their lives. So it is to participate in and be possessed by the empire of heaven; it is worth everything.
In the Treasure parable, one’s “treasure” (thesaurus θησαυρός in Greek) is an important metaphor in Matthew indicating where one’s allegiance ultimately lies and its nature. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (6.19-21; also cf. 12:35; 19:21) The discovered and claimed treasure in this parable also anticipates the scribe’s treasure mentioned in a moment in 13:52. Like the hidden leaven and like that which “has been hidden from the foundation of the world” (13:35), this treasure ultimately cannot be kept secret. This kind of singleness of purpose also is the thrust of the Pearl parable where again everything is sold in order to obtain the one prized pearl. Together, these two parables talk about the cost of discipleship.
The Net of Fish parable’s main point of emphasis is to provide assurance that God’s will is ultimately accomplished in the end. Note the vast, diverse, inclusive, scope of God’s empire is universal (“fish of every kind”). As in the earlier harvest parables this parable is about abundance. God’s kingdom is fecund. The parable also suggests we must exist peaceably, patiently live together, and leave judgment to God reflecting elements from the allegorical understanding of those first two major parables.
Matthew 13 concludes with Jesus asking the disciples if they have understood the parables that they have heard. The disciples respond yes. Perhaps we are intended to take their answer at face value. I confess to being suspicious. The dim disciples still repeatedly illustrate that they just don’t get it (16:12 & 17:13). If they’d only had the insight of Solomon (today’s first reading) & asked for understanding!
Overall, this collection of parables drives to the conclusion provided in today’s text in verses 51-52: “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.” The emphasis is on the newness of what Jesus is teaching, but it is based on his announcement of “what has been hidden from the foundation of the world.” (Jesus cites this text from Psalm 78:2 in verse 35. The idea is also similar to the string of “You have heard…, but I say” statements Jesus makes in Matthew 5). The Teacher is employing every tool at his disposal to convey God’s reign to us.
What follows immediately after today’s reading is the rejection of Jesus at hometown Nazareth: 53 And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, 54 and coming to his own country he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? 55 Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brethren 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 σκανδαλίζω (skandalizō) to cause to stumble; met. offend, Mt. 17:27; to offend, shock, excite feeling of repugnance, Jn. 6:61; 1 Cor. 8:13; pass. to be offended, shocked, pained, Mt. 15:12; Rom. 14:21; 2 Cor. 11:29; σκανδαλίζεσθαι ἔν τινι, to be affected with scruples of repugnance towards any one as respects his claims or pretensions, Mt. 11:6; 13:57; met. to cause to stumble morally, to cause to falter or err, Mt. 5:29; 18:6; pass. to falter, fall away, Mt. 13:21at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honour except in his own country and in his own house.” 58 And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.
These verses further confirm how these parables be understood. Teacher Jesus is rejected by his own.
The dominion of God may not always appear to be succeeding in the world, and even the community of faith itself is a mixed bag of good and evil, but in the end, God will sort things out. God will ultimately effect a bountiful and glorious harvest.
riffing on the parables…
a word about normal…
there’s an urgent zeal currently for things to return to normal
but that ship has sailed.
Haven’t we learned that normal is no longer the gold standard?
In fact normal never was the standard!
we were duped, normal was well below standard, but we collaborated & accepted it.
Now there is a new hard-earned reality
time to jettison normal
& build a new standard that recognizes we are all one,
that the health & well-being of each of us is in the best interest of all of us
that the health & well being of our mother the planet is in the best interest of all of us
that the health & well-being of our fellow creatures is in the best interest of all of us
a new standard where our common values are prioritized over individual greed.
“Thy kingdom come!”
In the Name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.
Help me to find my treasure hidden in the field of my life!
Help me to put away all these distractions
and find the pearl of great price you conceal in the heart of my heart. AMEN
the Reverend Brian Heinrich