The Word Made Fresh
1Later that day Jesus left the house to go and sit beside the sea. 2Throngs of people pressed around him, so he got into a boat, facing all those who stood on the beach. He taught them using many parables. He said, “Listen! A man went out to sow seeds. 4As he sowed them, some of them fell on the rocks where there wasn’t much soil. They were quick to sprout, 6but they were burned by the sun and withered because their roots were shallow. 7Some fell where there were briers, and the briers choked them. 8But others fell on good ground and yielded a good crop. Some produced a hundred times, some sixty, some thirty. 9Whoever has ears, listen!”
10Later his disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you teach using parables?”
11He said, “You have been given the wherewithal to understand the secrets of heaven, but they have not. 12Those who have understanding will be given even a lot more, but those who don’t understand, what little they’ve learned will be lost on them. 13The reason I teach using parables is so that they will see but not realize what they are seeing; and they will hear but not realize what they have heard. And they won’t understand. 14Isaiah prophesied this. He said:
‘You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will look but never really see.
15These people’s hearts have been dulled,
and their ears made hard of hearing,
and their eyes are closed.
And so, they won’t see with their eyes,
or hear with their ears,
or understand in their hearts.
If they did, I would heal them.’
16“But your eyes have been blessed with vision, and your ears with hearing. 17I’ll tell you the truth; a lot of prophets and good people have longed to see what you have seen, but didn’t see it; and to hear what you have heard, but didn’t hear it.
18“So, listen to the parable of the sower: 19Whenever someone hears the truth of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and grabs what as been sown in their hearts; they are like the seed that was thrown on the hard path. 20As for as the seed thrown on rocky ground, they are like one who hears the word and rejoices, 21but if he is not rooted in the word it will stay with him only a short while, so if he is troubled or persecuted because of the word, he will immediately fall away. 22As to the seed thrown into the briers, they represent the one who hears the word but is drawn away by the cares of the world and the lure of riches, and the word is strangled and results in nothing. 23But, the seed that falls on fertile ground represents those who hear the word and understand it. They will indeed produce a good harvest – for some a hundredfold, for others sixty, and for yet others, thirty.”
24He told them another parable: “Or, compare the kingdom of heaven to a man who scattered good seed in his field, 25but while everyone slept an enemy came and scattered weeds among the grain and then left. 26So when the seed began to grow the weeds came up with the grain. 27The man’s servants said to him, ‘Master, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where did these weeds come from?’ 28He said, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said, ‘So, do you want us to go and pull them up?’ 29And he said, ‘No. If you try to pull them up you’ll uproot the grain as well. 30Let them grow together and at harvest time I’ll instruct the reapers to pull up the weeds first and bundle them to be burned, and then gather the grain and store it in my barn.’”
31He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a man planted in his field. 32It is the tiniest of seeds, but it grows into a large shrub and then it becomes a tree. Birds come and nest in its branches.”
33And another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed thoroughly with three half-bushels of flour so that it was all leavened.”
34Everything Jesus taught the crowds, he put in the form of parables. That was how he taught them, 35 because the prophet Isaiah had said, “I will teach in parables and reveal what has been hidden since the world was founded.”
36Then Jesus left the crowds behind and entered the house, where his disciples came to him and asked him to explain the parable of the weeds planted in the field. 37Jesus said, “The farmer who sows good seed is the Son of Man; 38the field is the world. The good seed represent the children of the kingdom, while the weeds represent the children of the evil one. 39The enemy who sowed the weeds is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age; the harvesters are angels. 40The weeds are gathered and set on fire, and that’s how it will be at the end of the age. 41The Son of Man will send his angels and they will remove from his kingdom everything that causes sin, and every sinner. 42They will throw them into a blazing furnace where there will be much weeping and grinding of teeth. 43Then those who are righteous will shine as bright as the sun in their Father’s kingdom. Let everyone who can hear, pay attention!
44“The heavenly kingdom is like a treasure that someone found and had hidden in a field. Then he goes and joyfully sells everything he has and buys that field.
45“And the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. 46He finds a single pearl of great value, and goes and sells all he has and buys it.
47“And the kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea. It caught all kinds of fish. 48When it was full they pulled it ashore, sat down, and put the good fish into baskets, but threw out everything else. 49That’s how it will be at the end of the age. Angels will come and separate the wicked from the good, 50and they will throw the wicked into the fiery furnace where there will be sobbing and teeth grinding.”
51Then he asked them, “Have you understood all this?” They said, “Yes.” 52Then he said to them, “So, every scholar who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the head of household who brings out of his treasure things both new and old.”
53When Jesus finished explaining the parables, he left that town. 54When he got to his hometown, he began to teach in their synagogue. They were surprised. They said, “Where did this man get all this wisdom and these powerful acts? 55Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Is his mother’s name Mary? Aren’t his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56And don’t his sisters still live here? Where did he learn all of this?” 57They were offended by him.
But Jesus told them, “Prophets are not without honor except in their own country and among their own families.” 58He did only a few powerful works while he was there because of their lack of faith.
1-9: Matthew now begins a section of parables. The setting is the seaside town of Capernaum where he has lived for some time now. His reputation is growing and curiosity seekers as well as admirers and followers are crowding in. He uses a boat as a pulpit, an ingenious solution to the problem of keeping enough distance to be seen and heard by as many as possible. The parable of the farmer who sowed the seeds is a fitting preamble, emphasizing that the hearer has some responsibility for the efficaciousness of his teachings.
10-17: The disciples ask why he uses parables, and (predictably in Matthew) Jesus uses the question as an opportunity to demonstrate how everything that is happening is according to the prophets (in this case, Isaiah 6:9-10).
18-23: Jesus explains the parable of the sower and the seeds in terms of the opposition his gospel will encounter — the “evil one,” trouble and persecution, the lure of wealth and the “cares of this world.”
24-30: The parable of the attempted sabotage of the harvest addresses the opposition the disciples will face in spreading the good news.
31-32: The parable of the mustard seed illustrates the incredible mysterious power of the good news for developing a nurturing community — in the parable birds, but by extrapolation the Church.
33: The parable of the yeast in the flour illustrates the invisible, uplifting presence of the Spirit in human affairs.
34-35: The quotation here is not from one of the prophetic books of the Old Testament, but rather from Psalm 78:2. Nevertheless, Matthew obviously sees it as a prophetic reference to the coming Messiah.
36-43: At the request of his disciples Jesus explains the parable of the sabotaged harvest. Share the word with everyone, he tells them, and God will do the separating later.
44-46: More parables that illustrate the nature of the kingdom of God are given. In these two it is clear that the kingdom is worth everything we have.
47-50: Everyone will be scooped up by the kingdom, but the wicked will be cast out.
51-53: The section on parables ends with a rather curious saying. “Every scholar who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven” is almost certainly a reference to the disciples who are now being trained. The old and new treasures would then be a reference to the scriptures of the past (especially the quotes of the prophets) and the new teachings of Jesus. The teachings of Jesus are therefore not intended to replace, but to augment and refine the scriptures.
54-58: As if to illustrate the parable of the sower, Matthew ends this section with a report of Jesus’ visit to his hometown, where his words fall on rocky soil.
Immersing ourselves in the scriptures is the way to redirect our thoughts and actions in a more God-ward direction. Imagine your words and deeds as the seed you are sowing; what kind of crop do you imagine you will produce?