Parables are true-to-life comparisons that break forth into fictional analogies that seem upside down to us and often deceive us into truth by opening up the government of God. This is a homemade definition of parables, with the exception of the phrase “deceiving into truth,” which can be attributed to Soren Kierkegaard. By fictional analogies we are not saying that Jesus did not tell these. We simply mean that there is a point in the story where the true-to-life part of the comparison seems to become rather “fantastic” (almost unbelievable). Dr. Haddon Robinson taught us that this is where the grace of God or the justice of God breaks into the story. Some scholars believe that they are only illustrations of doctrine and not doctrinal statements themselves. Most of them are indeed stories—not doctrinal propositions—but they are often very telling about the grace of God and the justice of God. They often portray how God looks at the world.
Matthew 13 contains Jesus’ famous sermon in parables (compare Mark 4 and Luke 8). There are eight parables in the chapter—four told from a boat (v. 2) and four told inside a house (v. 36). Two of the eight parables have detailed explanations (vv. 18-23, 36-43). One of the parables has a clear “tag” line (vv. 47-50), and the others just end (vv. 31-33, 44-46, 52). Jesus explained why he spoke in parables (vv. 10-17), and Matthew said that Jesus’ parabolic preaching fulfilled prophecy (vv. 34, 35). In Jesus’ kingdom everything works “justly.”
Of the eight parables Jesus told that day, the disciples wanted the parable of the wheat and the weeds (tares) explained (v. 36). Whereas the former parable of the sower (vv. 3-9) put much of the accent on the soil, this parable put the accent on the seed and its fruit. Jesus lived in an agrarian culture, so it should not surprise us that he often used farming as a metaphor for the kingdom of God. In addition to that, the Bible spoke of seeds producing after their kind (Genesis 1:11, 12), and the Jews had one category of their laws labeled “seeds.”
The government of God is like a man (owner, Matthew 13:27) who planted good seed in his field—which is the world (v. 38). We know the man is Jesus (v. 37). So God is a good farmer, and he sows good seed, which is the church (v. 38). But farmer God has an enemy, the devil (v. 39). The enemy sows weeds (darnel seeds which look like wheat but are not and are minions of the enemy). In the earliest stages of growth wheat and darnel weeds look alike. But by harvest time, which is the end of the age (v. 39), the difference is obvious. The servants of the owner were alarmed and wondered about the weeds. Since they cared about the reputation of their owner they wanted to get rid of the weeds. But the owner cared for the well being of his wheat (church) so he said, “Let both grow together until harvest.” At harvest (end of time, v. 39) the harvesters (angels, v. 39) gather the weeds to be burned (reference to Hell?) and gather the wheat (God’s people) into the barn (Heaven?). This parable is not about the church; it is about the church “growing with” the people of the world until judgment.
Matthew 13:31, 32
The next parable is about the mustard seed. Though small in size, it grows into a bush that is tree-like. In fact, it grows large enough that birds can come and perch in its branches. There is no reason to allegorize “evil” into the parable. Even though in an earlier parable Jesus likened birds to the evil one (13:4, 19), there is no such connection here.
The government of God starts small and grows large. First there were twelve (Luke 6:13), then 120 (Acts 1:15), then 3,000 (2:41), then 5,000 (4:4), and then multitudes (5:14). Today this mustard seed paradigm reaches one-third of the population of the world. Jesus is more popular today than he was five years after his resurrection.
The final parable (fourth in the discourse) was the parable of the leaven. Jesus is quite democratic in his preaching. If God is pictured as a farmer in the previous parables, he is pictured as a homemaker in this story. God’s government is like a woman who put leaven (yeast) in dough. Sixty pounds of flour would produce lots of bread. The leaven (not a symbol of evil here) worked its way “through” the dough. God’s government works through every category of reality that it touches, which is why God’s “justice” can be established in all the spheres of life.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
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