A Deepening Divide

Pondering Parables

Matthew 13:3-17

“And He spoke many things to them in parables, saying, ‘Behold, the sower went out to sow; and as he sowed, some seeds fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate them up. And others fell upon the rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil. But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. And others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out. And others fell on the good soil, and yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.’  And the disciples came and said to Him, ‘Why do You speak to them in parables?’ And He answered and said to them, ‘To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted. For whoever has, to him shall more be given, and he shall have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. And in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says, ‘YOU WILL KEEP ON HEARING, BUT WILL NOT UNDERSTAND; AND YOU WILL KEEP ON SEEING, BUT WILL NOT PERCEIVE; FOR THE HEART OF THIS PEOPLE HAS BECOME DULL, AND WITH THEIR EARS THEY SCARCELY HEAR, AND THEY HAVE CLOSED THEIR EYES LEST THEY SHOULD SEE WITH THEIR EYES, AND HEAR WITH THEIR EARS, AND UNDERSTAND WITH THEIR HEART AND RETURN, AND I SHOULD HEAL THEM.’ But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. For truly I say to you, that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it; and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.'”

Knowing that Jesus explains this particular parable in the next passage, I will refrain from too much commentary on the parable. Today I would like to explore the reason for the parables, looking at the words of Jesus. Nevertheless, I have heard it said, and I agree, that we should not call this the parable of the sower but the parable of the soil. For it is the good soil that causes the good growth. Yet there is a just cause fo calling it the parable of the sower because the sower is called to spread the seeds.

“And the disciples came and said to Him, ‘Why do You speak to them in parables?'” That is a good question, especially in the context of Matthew. Luke contains the most parables and therefore it is no surprise that it is also the longest of the four Gospels. Matthew comes in a close second while Mark has only a few and John essentially has none. Why do Luke and Matthew focus more on parables, why are parables important? Luke writes to the Greek culture and Matthew focused more on the Hebrew culture but both contain a large amount of parables.

Luckily for us, Jesus explains his use of parables in this particular passage. Notice; “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted. For whoever has, to him shall more be given, and he shall have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” Does this mean that parables are magic and can only be understood by christians? What if you call yourself a christian but you struggle to understand the parables, are you not truly a christian? How do we figure this out?

You guessed it, context! Check out the context. “I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. And in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled.” You didn’t notice that the first time you read the passage, did you? Jesus mentions them five times in two sentences. It’s what we do, we tend to gloss over things we read, especially when it is in large chunks. Unlike the Pharisees who couldn’t see, we have the ability but we don’t slow down and consider the context. We don’t read it over and over until we know every word. It sounds boring but I assure you it is the opposite, it’s exciting and literally gives life.

The context is clear, Jesus spoke in parables so that they wouldn’t understand–they being his generation. But that doesn’t really explain why, does it? That explanation still leaves us wondering why Jesus didn’t want them to understand, does it not? The answer is found in the Old Testament tutor. Let’s look at the Old Testament quote Jesus uses from Isaiah, it will look different than how Jesus said it because he was quoting the Greek translation called the Septuagint, that was later translated to English, but I will be quoting an English translation from the Masoretic Text, mostly. We also will consider a greater amount of the context. Don’t worry, it’s all good.

The latter half of Isaiah 6 reads: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?’ Then I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’ And He said, ‘Go, and tell this people: ‘Keep on listening, but do not perceive; Keep on looking, but do not understand.’ ‘Render the hearts of this people insensitive, Their ears dull, And their eyes dim, Lest they see with their eyes, Hear with their ears, Understand with their hearts, And return and be healed.’ Then I said, ‘Lord, how long?’ And He answered, ‘Until cities are devastated and without inhabitant, Houses are without people, And the land is utterly desolate, The LORD has removed men far away, And the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land. Yet there will be a tenth portion in it, And it will again be subject to burning, Like a terebinth or an oak Whose stump remains when it is felled. The holy seed is its stump.’”

There is way too much context here for us to take it word by word and line by line, but we can see through a little more than a cursory reading that God is exacting justice on a people who have turned from him. The immediate context is Isaiah saw Jesus (John 1:18) sitting on his throne, lofty and exalted. He cried out, woe is me because I am a sinner! But God had compassion and forgiveness for Isaiah. Isaiah admitted his iniquity and God commissioned him to go into their land and prophesy against them. I will write it again, against them. Fast forward four hundred years, not much has changed other than Israel is no longer its own Kingdom.

Fast forward another three hundred years and we see Christ Jesus fulfilling this prophecy. People hate when I say this but the Bible is completely clear, Jesus was judging Israel, his people. And a mere 40 years later, their temple was destroyed and their cities ravaged, for the second time. However, that leaves no room for antisemitism! Jesus was Jewish and all the disciples and apostles and early Christian’s were Jewish. They are the root that supports the tree. What it does leave room for is abandoning the religion and created culture. But we will get to that.

Why parables? The just judgement of Jesus on the synagogue of Satan. Again, this does not refer to Jewish people but the prevailing religious customs and culture. Remember Jesus said, “For truly I say to you, that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it; and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” 99% of them were of Israel or Judah. Nevertheless, as Paul writes, with the majority of them God was not pleased. It started the before they left Egypt. They are our examples, we are to learn from them, 1 Corinthians 10. The context is clear, Jesus is putting to death the old way. He is the true Israel and is fulfilling everything they could not. Nevertheless, they fulfilled Isaiah six, seven hundred years later. Which goes to the patience of God!

 

 

 

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