MATT 13.24-30; 36-43 – SEVENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST/ SEVENTH SUNDAY OF KINGDOM TIME
1. OTHER REVISED COMMON LECTIONARY TEXTS FOR THIS SUNDAY: (YEAR A):
Gen 28:10-19; Rom 8.12-25; Ps 139.1-12, 23-24
2. BACKGROUND INFORMATION ABOUT THE BIBLE BOOK AND TEXT:
Author: There is no conclusive evidence about the authorship of the book, although an important core of the gospel may derive from Matthew, the apostle. In the circle within which he moved and from where it was finally written, his authority was apparently such that this gospel as a whole came to bear his name (Combrink 1983:68).
Date: 80 AD. After the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, but before 100 AD; later than the Gospel of Mark. There are compelling reasons to believe that Mark was written first and was then used by both Luke and Matthew as a source. Mark and Luke both used another source, known under the theologians as the Q source.
Historical Setting: The Evangelists wrote about Jesus and his time on earth. They did not write with the intention of creating a biography to give us a complete historical overview. Matthew, for instance, wrote nothing about Jesus’ youth. Each Evangelist wrote in his own style and made connections between certain parts of Jesus’ life and the OT in such a way as to convey a particular message. There are similarities and differences between Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Each wrote with different readers in mind. Matthew, especially, had Jewish readers in mind. The gospel of Matthew groups the sermons of Jesus together in five blocks: 5-7, 10; 13; 18; 23-25. Some scholars find a correlation between these and the five books of Moses (Gen to Deut).
2.1. EXEGETICAL INFORMATION OF TEXT/ BOOK:
Matt 13 is the third block (discourse) in the book (Ferreira) and it explains the kingdom of God in seven parables. Matt 12 focuses on the growing conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees. Matt 13 shifts the focus to the kingdom of God. Matt 13 can further be divided between Jesus teaching the crowds (13:1-35) and His disciples (13:36-52). The lectionary text for this Sunday includes passages in both these blocks. The end of Matt 13 takes us back to conflict. This time it is the people in Nazareth who are rejecting His teachings (13:54-57).
NIV NAV 1983
24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”
36 Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”
37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man.38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear. 24Hy het nog ‘n gelykenis aan hulle voorgehou en gesê: “Die koninkryk van die hemel kan vergelyk word met ‘n man wat goeie saad op sy land gesaai het. 25Een nag, toe die mense slaap, het sy vyand gekom en onkruid tussen die koring gesaai en verdwyn. 26Toe die groen koring opskiet en in die aar begin kom, het die onkruid ook sigbaar geword. 27Die slawe van die boer kom sê toe vir hom: ‘Meneer, het u nie goeie saad op u land gesaai nie? Waar kom die onkruid dan vandaan?’ 28Hy antwoord hulle: ‘Dit is ‘n vyand se werk.’ Die slawe sê toe vir hom: ‘Wil u hê ons moet dit gaan uittrek?’ 29‘Nee,’ sê hy, ‘as julle die onkruid nou bymekaarmaak, sal julle die koring saam uittrek. 30Laat altwee saam groei tot met die oes. In die oestyd sal ek vir dié wat oes, sê: Maak eers die onkruid bymekaar en bind dit in bondels om dit te verbrand, maar bring die koring na my skuur toe.’ ”
36 Daarna het Jesus van die mense af weggegaan huis toe. Sy dissipels kom toe by Hom en vra: “Verduidelik tog vir ons die gelykenis van die onkruid in die land.”
37Jesus antwoord: “Hy wat die goeie saad saai, is die Seun van die mens. 38Die saailand is die wêreld. Die goeie saad, dit is die mense van die koninkryk; die onkruid is die aanhangers van die Bose; 39die vyand wat die onkruid saai, is die duiwel. Die oes is die voleinding van die wêreld; dié wat oes, is die engele.
40“Soos die onkruid bymekaargemaak en met vuur verbrand word, so sal dit by die voleinding van die wêreld wees. 41Die Seun van die mens sal sy engele stuur, en hulle sal uit sy koninkryk verwyder almal wat ander mense in sonde laat val, en almal wat die wet van God oortree, 42en sal hulle in die brandende oond gooi. Daar sal hulle huil en op hulle tande kners. 43Dan sal die gelowiges in die koninkryk van hulle Vader skitter soos die son.
“Wie ore het, moet luister.”
3.1. COMMENTS AND DISCUSSION OF THE TEXT/ PASSAGE
The prescribed passages for this Sunday includes a parable (13:24-30) with its symbolism and a conversation between Jesus and His disciples (13:36-43) which explain the parable. Some scholars are of the opinion that the two passages should be read and interpreted independently of each other because the second passage does not fully explain the first passage (cf discussion in Burger 1987:42).
Jesus makes use, in his exposition of the parable, of the well-known allegoric method. This was the most general method of interpretation at the time. The allegorical interpretation has its origins both in Greek thought and in rabbinical schools of Judaism. It was still widely in use until the Middle Ages by Bible commentators. The allegorical method of interpretation assumes that the text (Bible) has various levels of meaning and tends to focus on the spiritual sense, as opposed to the literal sense (Allegorical interpretation of the Bible, n.d.).
“Sonder of die fout van Jülicher te herhaal as sou daar geen allegoriese trekke in die gelykenisse aanwesig wees nie, impliseer die siening van die gelykenis as metafoor tog dat dit nie as ’n allegorie behandel kan word nie, en dat dit dus foutief is om elke klein trekkie oor te dra en te interpreter” (Combrink 1987:49).
[“Without repeating the fault of Jülicher – that no allegorical strains are present in the parables –the metaphorical aspect of the parable implies that it cannot be treated as an allegory and that it would thus be a mistake to interpret and analyse every detail aspect allegorically”] A parable has an element of riddle, and enigma. Matt 13 makes much of “understanding” or “not understanding” (13:11; 13-16; 19; 23; 51). “Understanding” refers to the secrets of the kingdom of heaven (13:11). Also, there is a contrast between the crowd, who does not understand, and the disciples, who do understand.
One of the themes identified in this cluster of seven parables in Matt 13 is that of growth. Both seed and leaven represent growth. Another theme is that of judgement. But it is a very specific view of judgement – judgement in which a particular patience prevail:
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ 29 “‘No,’ he answered,
The single overall theme that includes most of the other themes, is that of “the kingdom”. Mark and Luke refer to the kingdom of God, Matthew refers to the kingdom of heaven 34 times but only five times to the kingdom of God. The term “kingdom of heaven” is not found in the OT. For Matthew, the kingdom of heaven evokes the resistance of Satan, as the opponent of the kingdom of heaven, with his own kingdom (12.26; 25.41).
The kingdom cannot be separated from Jesus Christ. The kingdom has arrived because Christ has arrived. Jesus explains something about the kingdom of heaven that is different from that which we know and expect. There are mysteries about the kingdom and they arise because the kingdom is present, but not yet in its fullness. According to König (1989:101), the meaning of the kingdom is intimately connected to the meaning of the covenant.
The church should not be equated with the kingdom of God (13.38, 41). The kingdom of heaven is far more comprehensive than the church. The church is witness to the kingdom and must exhibit the life of the kingdom and bear the fruits of the kingdom (13.8, 23). The heart of Jesus should characterise the life of the church (18.21-35). The church is an instrument of the kingdom. The church should pray for the coming of the kingdom (6.10) and in obedience also work towards realising the kingdom in the world. The church even received the keys to the kingdom (16.19; 18.18 see also Isaiah 22.22). At the same time, the church is not the owner of the kingdom, but only a tenant.
The question is whether this parable (13:24-30), when it speaks of the mix of wheat and weed, is referring to the church or the world. This mix growth is also known as the corpus mixtum. The Reformed tradition, with its specific views on church discipline, tends mostly to think that the text refers to the world as the place where wheat and weed grow together. Many English and German theologians interpret the corpus mixtum as specifically the church (Burger).
In the first parable of Matthew 13, the soil was the problem (hard and rocky), but in this parable the problem is caused by the seed that was sowed, by the enemy. In the first parable, it is a farmer who sows, but in this parable it is “a man” with servants who sows the wheat.
In the second passage we read the explanation of the parable (13:36-43), which is given in two parts. The symbolic language in the parable is explained (13:37-39) and then it is applied (13:40-43).
The “house” mentioned in 13:36 is probably the house of Peter and Andreas in Capernaum. The reference to “the Son of Man” in 13:37; 41 is a title for Jesus that is derived from Daniel 7:13. Jesus’ use of this title, rather than that of Messiah, may be an attempt to provide a new perspective on his calling. The Son of Man in Daniel has the power to forgive sins. The original, Jewish understanding of Messiah was laden with the idea of a military liberation.
To burn the weed to protect the seed and the harvest was a common practice of the time. Matthew used this image of fire (furnace) several times (8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30). The gospel of Luke has only one such reference (Luke 13:28). Matthew may also connect the blazing furnace with Daniel 3:6. The image of “shine like the sun” may also be a reference to Daniel 12:3:
3 Those who are wise[a] will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever. 4
The parable reminds us of the uncomfortable fact that evil continued to play a role in this aeon. It seems as if that was something the disciples felt uncomfortable about, but which Jesus nevertheless confirmed through the parable. The kingdom of God functions within this tension.
The specific weed is describe as “dolik” in the Greek. Apparently, the seeds and small plants of dolik and wheat look very much alike.
When we see all the terrible things that happen to people around us and all over the world, one of our thoughts may be: where is God?
“Is God still alive?”
These questions were also asked in the time of Jesus. The expectations were that, when the Messiah came, everything would be different and evil, injustice, suffering, and oppression would disappear. The followers of Jesus were tempted to become self-righteous, to try and get rid of those things they thought was opposed to the kingdom of God. Craddock et al (1992:372) says about this passage:
“The parable presupposes a church situation in which Jesus’ disciples are tempted to become involved in purging evil”.
Jesus had told the disciples that with His ministry, the kingdom of God/heaven had come. That was the comforting news. The “kingdom” was not something of the future. But there was a mystery to the kingdom. It was different from what the disciples had expected. It was not a mighty, overpowering and visible takeover of this world, although there was the promise that there would come a day when it would be visible for all to see.
However, it was important for the disciples to understand that the world does not consist of only the righteous. The righteous and the unrighteous live together in this world. They are sometimes so intermingled that it is not always easy to distinguish between them.
This is a part of the mystery or secret of the Kingdom of God the crowd and the disciples had to grapple with. Things are not that clear-cut – right and wrong often live next to each other. This definitely causes some tension. This means it would have been necessary to rethink the desire to achieve absolute purity and perfection. The desire for absolutes are often in conflict with the spirit of the gospel, which is to accept, forgive and restore. The crowd and the disciples may have desired to start a crusade to get rid of all that was bad and unjust. But at the heart of the gospel is the giving of second chances.
Once the disciples became willing to deal with this uncertainty and the complexity of the just and the unjust living together, a few other learnings regarding the Kingdom of God came to the fore.
What is necessary, in the first place, is patience, endurance and perseverance, all of which also feature in the rest of the NT :
James 5:7 Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains
Col 3:12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
1 Tim 1:16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.
This patience needs a deeper understanding of God’s love, grace and patience with us, a God who has our wellbeing at heart. Mocke (2016-2017:211) puts it as follows:
“Ons wat genade verwag, moet ook genadig kan wees. Net so is verdraagsaamheid met diegene buite die kerk noodsaaklik. Dit is soms gevaarlik om die wêreld te wil “suiwer”. [We, who expect mercy, also have to act with mercy. It is also equally necessary to be tolerant to those who are outside the church. At times, it can be dangerous to want to “cleanse” the world.] This parable is, in the second place, an explanation of Matthew 7:1-2.
Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
When we practice the spiritual discipline of patience, we loose the desire to judge others. Then we understand that we just do not have the ability to know the heart of another person. In this parable, the weed and the wheat are so closely intermingled that it would be dangerous even to try and get rid of the weed. Ironically, our desire to judge can endanger the wheat:
‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them.
The warning, in the third place, is to look at ourselves, to examine ourselves. Are we absolutely on the side of the righteous or the unrighteous? Do we not often harbour both righteous and unrighteous thoughts, each in our own heart? When our heart’s desire grows for God to punish the unrighteous, we should also think about the unrighteous dimensions of our own heart.
Rom 2 You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. 2 Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth.
That we are no better than others is clear from Paul’s words in Rom 3:10-12:
“There is no one righteous, not even one; 11there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good, not even one.”
The kingdom of God in this parable and the other parables surrounding it, is not a powerful force to steamroller society, it should not be seen as mighty and overpowering. The kingdom of God is not like a pill that you swallow and then everything changes. The kingdom should grow in our hearts to make our hard an unjust hearts more and more like the heart of Jesus. This is a process. The kingdom works like yeast in bread, or it grows, like a small mustard seed. It changes people, teaching us to live in patience and by grace alone.
This is difficult in a world that is geared towards the powerful, the mighty, for those who want strongly to grow in the opposite direction. The description of the kingdom as small or even invisible, for the people of the kingdom to be tolerant and patient, does not make sense to many people. The kingdom of Jesus means that the small things you and I do are seeds that we sow, the seeds of the kingdom. Where we show love, compassion, have a heart for others, we are erecting signs to the kingdom of God.
There is some continuity in the kingdom of God, in that we are connected through the ages with the God of the covenant. The kingdom is only realised in Christ, but it was already present in the covenant with Abraham. The kingdom of God is coming daily in this world, but it is different from this world, in its attitude towards the creation. The church is a sign of this kingdom, but only a sign, and should act in all humility. The church should not try to be bigger and stronger than the King of the kingdom.
We are called to look forwards in faith, to the day when the King of this kingdom will in all justice bring in the harvest. On that day the promise taken from the book of Daniel will be fulfilled in its fullness: “the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of the Father”. Craddock e.a. (1992:372) closes with the following words:
“The parable of the weeds in the wheat is therefore not a threatening but a comforting word.”
Dr Frederik B O Nel
Place: Uniting Reformed Church, George Date 27.07.08 Occasion: Baptism
Place: Uniting Reformed Church, Die Hoogtes, Touwsranten Date 23.07.2017
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