Biblical Studies/New Testament Commentaries/The Gospel of Matthew/Chapter 13
Matthew describes in this passage Jesus telling a large crowd of people about the nature of the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom is compared to several things in order to illustrate it. First, Jesus describes the different responses a person can have toward knowledge of the kingdom of heaven and their consequences. The Lord then told a parable about a farmer whose field had been sown with both wheat and weeds. Instead of trying to pluck out the weeds before the two were distinguishable, the farmer said let them be. We will divide the two when the harvest comes. The farmer would risk the weeds choking out the wheat so that he would not accidentally uproot the wheat before it could be told clearly which is which.
Again, the Lord described the kingdom of heaven. He said it is like a mustard seed which is planted and grows into the largest plant in the garden. It is small and doesn’t raise many expectations when the untrained and ignorant eye looks at it, but it yields an enormous quantity, greater than any other religion or faith. Jesus also said the kingdom of heaven is like yeast. Like yeast causes bread to rise, the content of the kingdom of heaven becomes part of our soul and causes us to grow. Jesus then says that the kingdom of God is incredibly precious, like a man that would sell everything for a single pearl or a field that contains a hidden treasure.
Outline of Matthew 13
- The Parable of the Sower (v. 1-23)
- Jesus goes out into a boat to speak (v. 1-2)
- Jesus tells a Parable concering the kingdom of heaven (v. 3-9)
- A sower sows seed on a path (v. 3-4)
- Some seed falls on rocky places (v. 5-6)
- Some seed gets choked by thorns (v. 7)
- Some seed falls on good soil (v. 8-9)
- Jesus explains how he is fulfilling a prophecy made by Isaiah (v. 11-15)
- The disciples ask Him why he speaks in parables (v. 11)
- Jesus states that those whos hearts are hardened will get nothing but those whose hearts are receptive will gain everything (v. 12)
- Jesus quotes procjecy made by Isaiah (v. 13-15)
- Jesus tells the disciples that they are blessed for trusting and believing (v. 16-17)
- Jesus explains the meaning of the parable of the sower (v. 18-23)
- Explanation of seed sown on the path (v. 19)
- Explanation of seed sown in rocky soil (v. 21-22)
- Explanation of seed sown in thorns (v. 22)
- Explanation of seed sown in good soil (v. 23)
- Parable of the Weeds (v. 24-30)
- The farmers field is sown (v. 24)
- The farmer's field is sabotaged (v. 25-26)
- The workers recognize destruction and tell the master (v. 27-28)
- The master gives directions(v. 28-30)
- The Parable of the Mustard Seed and the Yeast (v. 31-35)
- The kingdom of eaven is likened to a mustard seed planted in the ground (v. 31)
- Jesus gives before and after pictures of the seed(v. 32)
- The kingdom of heaven is likened to yeast (v. 33)
- Jesus fulfills more prophecy (v. 34-35)
- The kingdom of eaven is likened to a mustard seed planted in the ground (v. 31)
- Parable of the Weeds Explained (v. 36-43)
- The disciples asked Jesus t explain the prables of the weeds (v. 36)
- Jesus explains it (v. 37-43)
- Farmer is the son of man (v. 37)
- Field is the world (v. 38)
- Good seed are the righteous (v. 38)
- Weeds are the unrighteous (v. 38)
- Enemy is the devil (v. 39)
- harvesters are angels (v. 39)
- The Parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl (v. 44-46)
- The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure found in a field (v. 44)
- The kingdom of heaven is like a fine pearlv (v. 45-46)
- The Parable of the Net (v. 47-52)
- The kingdom of heaven is like fishermen who caught a load (v. 47-50)
- The fishermen catch a load of fish (v. 47)
- They sort out the good from the bad (v. 48)
- Jesus gives a glimpse of end times (v. 49-50)
- Jesus says that a teacher is like a man who owns a house (v. 52)
- The kingdom of heaven is like fishermen who caught a load (v. 47-50)
- A Prophet Without Honor (v. 53-58)
- Jesus returns home (v. 53)
- Jesus teaches to the people in the Synagogue (v. 54)
- People are unreceptive to Him (v. 54-57)
- Jesus did not perform many miracles for them (v. 58)
Commentary on Matthew 13
“That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore.”
Jesus had just finished chastising a group of Pharisees who were trying to back him into a corner. Some scholars suppose that he was at the house of the apostle Peter while he was speaking with the Pharisees (Earle 129). It was a cultural tradition for a rabbi (or teacher) to teach while sitting down. He moved out from shore into a boat in order to be able to address the entire crowd (Hagner 368).
“Then he told them many things in parables, saying: …”
According to G. W. H. Lampe, the word “parable” as used in New Testament Greek is “a proverbial saying and involves the element of comparison… is [usually] secular and the story as a whole makes its own point” (Lampe 649-50). (Later in verse 10, the disciples ask Jesus why he speaks to the people specifically in parables. See exegesis on verse 10)
“’A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.”
Thankfully, Jesus, the master of exegesis, already explained this parable for the people so that I don’t have to. It is necessary to understand the significance of a farmer sowing seeds though and whether or not the place where they landed is important.
The culture in which New Testament Jews lived was an agricultural one (Hagner 368). This implies that most, if not all, the people who heard the parable understood the role of a sower in relation to the seed. They knew that he would do what he could in order to cultivate the seeds’ growth, but that not all seed would grow and produce a crop. There would be some that were snatched away by the birds because they were easily accessible to them, such as the seed that fell on the road. The road, having hard and compacted soil, would probably keep the seed from taking root in the ground, leaving it to rest on the surface. Like the seed that rested on top of the ground, there are people who hear the Word but have no care for it and let it rest instead of integrating it into their lives. Consequently, the birds (or evil spirits and false teachings) snatch their hearts away.
“Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.”
Some scholars suggest that the topsoil was fairly shallow, quickly followed up by rocky layers of earth. Because of the rock, the rots of a plant could only stretch so far into the earth before they are forced to grow out of the soil instead of in. If the roots do not extend very deeply into the earth, not much moisture will be caught and so they would whither (Hendriksen 551).
“Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants.”
The soil apparently had weeds with thorns in it. Generally, what isn’t good grows the fastest, such as the thorns (Hendriksen 552). The thorns, as described in verse 22, are the “worries” of this life. So, in essence, this young beginning of a believer was just developing but the worries of earth that are not only worthless to the farmer (God) but harmful to the wheat prevented the young wheat from developing properly.
“Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop- a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.’”
The main point of this part of the narrative is that the believer who hears the message without succumbing to their old ways of living chooses to and is able to nurture the growth of qualities the gospel of Jesus Christ teaches. Jesus provides varying harvest amounts from each crop, but does not seem to focus on it. It would appear that the success level of the harvest is not the point itself then, but the point is that there is a harvest at all (Hagner 732). In Matthew chapter 25, Jesus tells his apostles about a master who gives his servants different amounts of money and leaves, telling them to multiply it by the time he gets back. The first two do but the last does nothing with it and is cast away for it. The first servant who multiplied his money gained more than the second who multiplied his, but the master was pleased with both regardless. The last gained nothing and so the master was displeased. Like so, the farmer is not interested so much in how productive the crops are so much as he is in whether or not they are productive at all.
“He who has ears, let him hear.”
This conclusion (used several times before, including verse 43 in this chapter) catches the attention of the audience to pay close attention to what was just said. The phrase “who has ears” carries the implication that there is a deeper message than the surface story. Jesus is letting on to the people that there is something important to catch from the story that he told also to act upon what they had learned (Hagner 369).
“The disciples came to him and asked, ‘Why do you speak to the people in parables?’”
Based on the use of the word “them”, it seems that the followers of Jesus speak to him in private, asking why things are taught in parables. This is the first recorded time that Jesus uses parables to teach but it is assumed by many scholars that Jesus has taught in parables before. The question does not imply that story telling was a novelty at that time, but rather that such wisdom has not been delivered to such enormous multitudes as of yet. Naturally, the disciples are curious as to why this is happening now (Hendriksen 552).
“He replied, ‘The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.’”
As Jesus’ followers, the disciples had access to an incredible wealth of Godly wisdom in both word and demonstration. As Jesus states explicitly, the knowledge was not discovered but rather given to them (Hendriksen 553). It is not in the nature of God to reveal characteristics or qualities of Himself to some but not want it to be spread to the others. Therefore, Jesus revealed secrets of heaven to the crowd as he did to His personal followers. At this time of oppression by the Roman government, a revelation of the kingdom of heaven is what the Jews longed for (Albright and Mann 166-67). Just as the Lord revealed Himself to the disciples through Jesus, so did He reveal Himself to the large crowd of Jews, thus giving them hope for the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecy.
“Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.”
At face value, this passage may appear to preach the gospel of prosperity or self sufficiency. The Lord helps those who help themselves, right? If this passage were referring to material possessions, maybe this would be true. However, Jesus is talking about people’s acceptance or rejection of the gospel of Christ (Hagner 373). Like in the parable that Jesus just told, the person who succumbs to the birds, thorns, and rocky soil will lose what little growth there ever was. If a person hears the gospel but does not cultivate it through acceptance and then appropriate reaction in lifestyle, no Godly wisdom will grow within their hearts. Those who hear the gospel and choose to cultivate the message of love within their lives, the Lord will indeed multiply good thing in their life.
“This is why I speak to them in parables: ‘Though seeing, they do not see; / Though hearing, they do not understand.’ In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. / For thispeople’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. / Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’”
This quote harkens back to Isaiah 6:9-10. In this revelation to Isaiah, God tells the prophet that the hearts of the Israelites will be hardened against Him. This is not to imply that God would personally harden their hearts against Him, but rather that he would present two roads to the: serve Him or turn away from Him. The Greek word used for “do not” carries the implication that it is a willing action to not do something. They do not see willingly, not because they are supernaturally blinded (Hagner 373).
The idea of Jesus hardening the hearts of the Jews is similar to Moses confronting Pharaoh and demanding that the Jews be set free from captivity. Pharaoh had at least ten opportunities to obey and save himself the heart-ache, but he chose to serve his personal interests every time. Each time he did, he hardened his heart a little more against God (Hendriksen 554).
This was so with Israelites. Jesus was revealing His nature and the redemption plan for the Israelites through His teachings and actions, in this case the parable of the sower and seeds. This clear description of what God is like would force the Jews to either accept the teachings of Jesus or reject Him as a blasphemer. History tells us what side most Jews took.
I do not believe that God wanted the Jews to grow calloused toward Him. It would be illogical to want the people you chose to reject you. Instead, I believe God wanted a clear and definite separation of the wheat from the chaff.
“But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear.”
The Greek “your” is a stark contrast from the Greek “them” or “their”. This is to emphasize that the disciples belief and acceptance of the gospel is the difference between night and day compared to the unbelief of the majority of the Jews (Albright and Mann 167).
The word “blessed” that is used carries the same connotations as it did in the beatitudes. Those who are blessed do not just feel good for a day or two and smile at everyone they see. Those who are blessed (in this case, the disciples) are in the Lord’s favor, not in his wrath (Hendriksen 556).
“For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”
Jesus makes a statement about how privileged the disciples were to see and hear the things that so many holy men before them, like Noah, Abraham, and many others, never got to even though they yearned for it. The disciples were in the midst of the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies and would be the envy of so many before them (Hagner, 376). Why did Jesus tell them this at this particular moment? I believe it may have been to catch their attention even further. The next thing He tells them is an explanation of the parable he just told. Maybe Jesus wanted his followers to pay particularly close attention to the meaning of this parable that revolutionized many people’s previous understanding of the nature of heaven.
“Listen then to what the parable of the sower mean:”
Many scholars believe that this explanation of the parable was not told by Jesus but rather added by the author later on. Their reasoning for this is that Jesus never titled his parables like this at any other time. Also, He never gave such a detailed explanation of any other parables (Albright and Mann 167-68). Few believe that the explanation was given by Jesus though at the request of the disciples (Johnson 413).
“When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path.”
It is not explicitly stated in this parable, but it assumed by many that the sower is representative of Jesus, the Messiah (Hendriksen 558). The path has been trampled and is hardened. Like a seed falling on a hard path, the gospel cannot take root in a hardened heart. It is no fault or impurity in the gospel that causes this but the person who does not even heed it (Hagner 379).
“The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the world, he quickly falls away.”
In the rocky places, there is at least enough soil for the seed to bed down somewhere but the rocks prevent roots from digging in. This person at least receives the word and has a short spurt of piety, but soon falls back into their old lifestyle. There is a thin layer of topsoil but beneath the necessary soil are the rocks, the sin that has not been taken care of (Hendriksen 560-61). Sins that are dug in deep in our hearts can sometimes be swept under the rug and dealt with temporarily by taking care of the symptoms instead of attacking the rotten core of the problem. These people are the rocky soil.
“The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it.”
Jesus spoke against both worrying and hording money and riches away in the Sermon on the Mount. The thorns illustrate both of these things. Like the thorns, worries and riches may start out small and unnoticeable, but can quickly take root. Since the seed and the thorns cannot both share the water, one must whither. We cannot serve both money and God and so one must whither in our lives (Hendriksen 561).
“But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown.”
The man that demonstrates good soil not only understands but receives the gospel and acts upon what he has learned. The fruit is not mentioned in the parable, but the fruit harvested is probably representative of the fruit of the spirit that would grow in a believer of Jesus (Hagner 380).
“Jesus told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field.”
“Them” in this case and the rest concerning parables refers to the crowd. Again, the kingdom of heaven is likened to a farmer and a field. This parable has a different purpose though than the last.
“But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.”
There is room for doubt that this parable was said by Jesus at that time and location. Instead, many hold the opinion that Jesus told a story similar to this at one point, but not then and there (Johnson 414). The wheat represents humanity and the weeds represent evil that can destroy humanity. The man who sowed the wheat is God, creating humanity to produce goodness. Jesus clearly states without hesitation that the weeds that laced the field were put there by an enemy. Jesus does not give great detail how evil came to, but He does assert that it is in the world on purpose, placed as a subtle assassin for humanity. Evil is not accidental, immaturity, or even misunderstanding of one another. Evil is real and dangerous, as demonstrated by this parable (Johnson 414). The Greek word for weed used in this text refers to a common weed, a variety of darnel. It usually doesn’t sprout until the wheat does and so it is hard to recognize until it has taken root (Hagner 383). Often, sin isn’t recognizable in our lives until it has taken root.
“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?’ ‘An enemy did this,’ he replied."
Not only is the man who sowed the seed the farmer, but also the master of the house. The master knows and cares for his fields. When his servants inform him that his fields are rampant with weeds, he recognizes that there is no way that it can be a natural occurrence but that an enemy of his has sabotaged him (Hagner 383-84).
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ ‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them.’”
Coming to a natural conclusion, the servants asked if the master wanted them to undo the work of the enemy by pulling out the weeds. Had the weeds been easy to uproot with mush risk of damaging the wheat, he may have assented. The roots of the weeds often wrapped around the roots of the wheat though and the master did not want to sacrifice his wheat in order to be rid of some weeds. (Hagner, 384). The wheat was precious to the master, even if it was wrapped in weeds.
“Let them 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.”
The key to salvaging a large part of the wheat was patience. The farmer could have ordered the servants to remove the weeds and he no longer would have been troubled by them and he probably would have saved water, and the wheat that would survive the weeding process would grow big and fruitful, but there would be fewer of them. Instead, the farmer ordered that they still be taken care of until it was the harvest season and everything was to be picked, both weeds and wheat. By doing this, the master saved a large amount of wheat. He cared more about saving the wheat than punishing condemning the unwanted weeds (Johnson 415).
Humanity is thickly laced with sin and evil of all sorts. Since God is almighty, has both the right and the ability to punish the sin, but those of us who are so entwined in the sin would suffer with it. Instead, the Lord provides time to change which master we will serve.
“He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.’”
Again, Jesus reveals to the crowd another aspect of the kingdom of heaven. The mustard seed, the smallest of the seeds, produces the largest plant in the garden. Faith, though it is meek and seems like it is fragile thing, is the seed of the kingdom of heaven (Hagner 386). It is a miracle that, like the mustard seed, the kingdom of heaven is produced here on earth from humble things like a child born in a stable, a small band of men roaming, and a public trial and a death sentence (Albright and Mann 169; Johnson 416). The mustard shrub can grow about ten feet, but birds generally don’t perch or nest on the tree. This is an allusion to Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom which gathered vassal nations to itself like birds of the air. The kingdom of heaven will also draw men unto it (Albright and Mann 169).
“He told them still another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.’”
Very similar to the parable of the mustard seed, the parable of the yeast speaks of the ability of the kingdom of heaven to grow miraculously. Yeast was a common product in Palestinian homes at this time, used as it is now for making bread rise. The kingdom of heaven may at first seem inconsequential but over time can infiltrate the life of a person, or a community, or an entire nation and works slowly but steadily (Hagner 389).
“Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable.”
In order to put things in terms the general public could comprehend and relate to, Jesus spoke in parables about the kingdom of heaven.
“So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet: ‘I will open my mouth in parables, / I will utter things hidden since creation of the world.’”
This reference added by the author of the gospel of Matthew is found in Psalm 78:1. The authorship of this particular psalm is traditionally accredited to King David. This prophecy, written by David, was later fulfilled by the Christ, a descendant of his. The Jewish people, who had little to no concept of what the kingdom of heaven is like, were suddenly revealed in detail what the nature of it is. At that point, they could either accept Jesus’ teaching and rejoice in the knowledge of God or reject Jesus’ teaching and fulfill the prophecy of hardening their hearts toward God, having ears yet not hearing (Hagner 390).
“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.’”
Again, this explanation might be an insert by the author of Matthew instead of an actual quote from Jesus (Albright and Mann, 170). Either way, the disciples approach Jesus in privacy and ask for an explanation. It is important to keep in mind that this parable is not about judgment so much as it is about the delay of judgment (Hagner, 392).
“He answered, ‘The one who sowed the good seed is the son of man.’”
Jesus tells the disciples that the farmer and master of the house is the son of man. Who is the son of man? Did the disciples understand what Jesus meant when He told them this? No doubt, the phrase “son of man” refers to the Messiah. If it meant anything else, Jesus would have been a fraud. The origin of the phrase and the implications it carries are a little more blurry than the meaning though. The term son of man is found in several ancient, Old Testament works. One such writing is Psalm 8 verse 4. The author writes; “…what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” In the book of Ezekiel, the prophet is constantly called the son man by the Lord. When Jesus titles himself as the son of man, it would seem that he using it as a description of his full and complete humanity which brings a complete dependence on God for provision (Hendriksen 404).
The first mention of the term “son of man” in the biblical literature can be traced to the book of Daniel, chapter 7 verse 13: “I continued to watch in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there was one coming like a son of man…” Matthew 26:64 records Jesus referring to Himself as “the son of man, seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven. The Old Testament prophet wrote this passage concerning the vision of a Messianic liberator. Jesus, quoting this passage, affirmed himself as this liberator, the Messiah (Hendriksen 404-05). When Jesus says that the son of man is the farmer and master of the house, He implies that He, the fulfillment of ancient visions and prophecies, is the one who has created all that is good.
“The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.”
Jesus states that the field is representative of the world entire. Historically, the Jewish culture was very separated from other cultures. Not only did zealous observance of laws of religious cleanliness create division between Jewish and gentile people, but so did racism and feuds between nations, both past and present. Jesus says that the love and goodness of God includes but is not limited to the Jewish people (Carson 325). It extends past the limit of just the chosen people and encompasses all of humanity. It extends past the church we go to and people that are easy to get along with and encompasses the homeless, refugees from ‘enemy’ nations, and the rich that look the poor in the eye and walk right along.
The good seeds, the sons of the kingdom, are the people who accept the gospel and respond to its message by being transformed by it (Hendriksen 571). Like the previous parable concerning the seeds and soils, the good seed was the one that grew and produced something useful.
Jesus mentions that the weeds are the sons of the evil one, also known as the devil. The farmer planted the wheat and so the wheat is inherently good. Of course its goodness can be made useless by the weeds, but it itself is good. The weeds are used as a weapon against what is good and healthy. Even without anything to destroy, they bring nothing good themselves. The weeds then would be representative of full supporters of what is evil. I do not think the idea of weeds pertains to people who sin sometimes or even have an addiction to a sinful habit. Those people are the wheat that is strangled by evil.
The harvest is placed at the end of the age. The wheat, whether good or bad, will not be judged until all is said and done. The master of the house is patient with his crops and willing to let the growth of both the weeds and wheat to run their course before he chooses to burn any of it (Hendriksen 571). At this time, the Jews believed that angels carried out the will of God. Whether or not this is true, Jesus referred to them in order to paint a picture of the Father acting as the judge in the final days of the earth (Hagner 393).
“As the weeds were pulled up and burned in the fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 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. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their father. He who has ears, let him hear.”
This passage demonstrates that there are eternal consequences to entertaining sin in our lives. God punishes sin because it destroys what is good. Those who side with it will be punished as well. Judgment is not limited to only punishment though. Those who choose to serve what is good will be rewarded. Again, Jesus catches their attention with the phrase about hearing what is said.
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought the field.”
It was an uncommon practice to hide something of value in the earth if it would not be destroyed or damaged by it. The focus of the parable is not on the finding and then re-hiding of the treasure but on what the man was willing to sacrifice in order to keep it. The kingdom of heaven is worth everything (Hagner 397).
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”
At this time, pearls were found mainly in the Persian Gulf or the Indian Ocean and any pearl would cost a large sum of money to buy. A fine pearl would cost years of wages for the average citizen to purchase and only the rich could afford to keep any. In this parable, a merchant is in search of a perfect pearl. Upon finding one, he sells everything he has without hesitation to buy this pearl. A merchant, who’s business it is to buy and sell things constantly in order to eat on a regular basis, sells all that he has for a single but a pure pearl. The parable here carries no implications that the kingdom of heaven can be bought or sold, but rather that it requires great sacrifice (Hendriksen 576-77). The merchant had to release what he had in order to obtain the pearl. It required sacrifice in order to gain it. Likewise, the kingdom of heaven requires sacrifice in order to gain it. We cannot hold on to our addictions and sinful desires with the expectation that we can come fully into the kingdom of God justified in our sin. Like the treasure in the field, the kingdom of heaven is worth sacrificing everything we hold dear for it.
The main difference between this picture of the kingdom of heaven and the last is how the character under scrutiny came to find the treasure or the pearl. The man in the field happened to come upon the treasure and recognized its value. The merchant on the other hand intentionally sought after the pearl and found it and was willing to sacrifice for it. The kingdom of heaven will be revealed whether or not it is intentionally sought after. It is in our best interest to seek though because the man in the field may not have found the treasure for a long time or at all. However, the kingdom, though incredibly valuable and worth much sacrifice, can become a mere delightful idea unless we are willing to sacrifice what is precious to us for the sake of taking part in it (Hendriksen 376-77).
“Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up to the shore. They sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angles will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
This parable, though a different setting, contains the same message as the parable of the weeds. There is no different and revolutionary meaning in this parable from that one. Both parables discuss the separation of the righteous from the unrighteous in the end times (Hendriksen 578). It might be that Jesus gave the same message twice in order to include a larger portion of the audience in understanding the idea of the kingdom of heaven. The parable of the weeds connected well with population of the crowd that lived inland and understood the workings of farming. Those who did not understand farming might have caught a glimpse of the idea of separation between the righteous and the unrighteous but still were unclear on certain points. Including the parable of the net extends inclusion from the inland population to population that lived by the sea.
“’Have you understood all these things?’ Jesus asked. ‘Yes’, they replied.”
By asking this question, Jesus allowed the disciples to ask for clarification or in depth questions. The disciples, presumably believing they understood everything or deceptively claiming they did, said they were content with their understanding of what Jesus told them (Hendriksen 579; Hagner, 401).
“He said to them, ‘Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.’”
In this illustration, Jesus gives several implications concerning what a teacher of the law, or rabbi, should be like. First, the rabbi must be equipped in both understanding of the kingdom of heaven and ability to communicate this understanding. A teacher can be very understanding of something but it’s no good if they do not know how to transmit this information to others. On the same token, if they have good intentions and the ability to teach well but have nothing to teach, they’re just shooting blanks (Hendriksen 580). As the owner of a house, it is that person’s responsibility to provide for the housel hold. In a real home, this would concern providing food, water, protection, and so on and so forth. As a teacher, it the responsibility of a rabbi to provide spiritual education to his or her pupils (Hendriksen 580). Finally, the scribe must produce “new treasures as well as old.” It is good and healthy to be reminded of concepts of love, regardless of how old they are. Of course, the job of the rabbi is to produce it in such a way that is relevant to their modern day. The rabbi cannot remain stagnant in reference to their wealth of knowledge and understanding. They must constantly be searching for truth from the Lord (Hendriksen 580-81).
“When Jesus had finished these parables, he moved on from there.”
The scene shifts from Jesus teaching crowds of people in Capernaum to Jesus heading back to his hometown, Nazareth (Hendriksen 581).
“Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. ‘Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?’ they asked."
Jesus had not been back to His hometown since the death of John the Baptist. Returning home to see people he knew and places he was familiar with and to teach in the synagogue where he probably taught at as a child must have produced a stirring flurry of emotions within Him. As he taught again in the synagogue yet again, the people were amazed by his wisdom. They talked among themselves and disbelief spread (Hagner 405). They had probably heard of His miracles by word of mouth and were upset that a Nazarene like them could do such miraculous things while the rest of them did not reap a thing from His gift. In essence, they were probably jealous and therefore unreceptive to Christ (Hendriksen 581).
“Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?”
Hearing of the miracles and paying close attention to Jesus’ teaching and His fulfillment of prophecies should have tipped the Jews in the city off to the fact the Jesus was the Messiah. If He was the Messiah, wouldn’t He have blessed them in some way by now? The people in the crowd of listeners became more concerned with what they thought was fair than what was right and good (Hendriksen 581). The people created a list of all the different ways they were connected with Jesus through family and friends. With each name probably came up a thought or a memory or prejudice in some way to support their reason for why Jesus should not have been in a spiritual leadership position (Hagner 405).
“And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, only in his hometown is a prophet without honor.”
Jesus may or may not have spoken a message that upset the tables, but what set them off was His confidence and ability to do miraculous things. Also, I think the fact that Jesus taught as much as a rabbi does but without being trained as one frustrated the people because, after all, he was just one of them. Their response to Jesus was being offended by Him and what they considered to be arrogance (Hendriksen 582). Only in a hometown will a prophet be disowned like such because only in a hometown do the people think they know prophet well enough to pass judgment on him.
“And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.”
Jesus did not use miracles to convert the people in masses. They weren’t a magic trick to bring the crowds (Hagner 406). Many people that were healed by Jesus were healed through their faith (the woman to who touched the hem on His robe, the centurion’s daughter, etc.). God can work past a person’s lack of faith, but why would He reward those whose stubborn and arrogant hearts do not even recognize the Messiah just as He rewards those who have tormented by sickness but have had faith (Hendriksen 582)?
Questions About the Text to Consider
1. In verse 11 and 31, why did the author say,”the kingdom of heaven” while Mark and Luke both said “the kingdom of God”?
2. If Matthew says kingdom of heaven all the other times, why would he randomly say kingdom of God these few other times?
3. In verse 19, Matthew omits “the word” while Mark and Luke both include that specific phrase.
4. In verse 54, Matthew does not specify that Jesus spoke in the synagogue on the Sabbath but the other gospels do.
5. What did Jesus mean when he said He will take from people who do not even have? What would he take from them then?
6. Is this statement a reference to the same principal as the master who gave money to his servants in Matthew 25?
7. Did Jesus use so many different examples to display the kingdom of heaven in order to play to a wider audience or to demonstrate so many different understandings of the kingdom of heaven?
8. If Jesus said to his disciples that they have been granted more understanding than the crowd, how come the disciples keep on asking Jesus to explain the parables to them?
9. Was mustard a rarity in that culture or was it fairly common?
10. I find it interesting how all of the parables of the kingdom of heaven are related to some sort of occupation or labor.
11. Why did Jesus pick such obscure numbers like thirty or sixty? Was the number thirty or multiples thereof significant in that culture?
12. In verse 37 when Jesus said that the son of man sowed the good seed, is he saying that man is inherently good and that they are just corrupted by sin?
13. How is the kingdom of heaven like old and new treasures?
14. In verse 58, does Jesus’ comment imply that he only performs miracles to those who already have faith?
15. Did the crowds realize that Jesus was fulfilling the words of the prophets as he was speaking?
16. How would that have affected their understanding of his teaching?
17. Why did it take so long for the disciples to ask Jesus to explain the meaning of the parable of the weeds?
18. What is the difference between comparing the kingdom of heaven to a hidden treasure in a field and comparing it to a fine pearl?
19. In the parable of the sower, why did the sower randomly throw the seed on all of these places where it was bound to die?
20. Were the disciples in the boat as Jesus spoke to the crowd?
21. What was the reaction of the people when Jesus said that there would be weeping and gnashing of teeth in the furnace where the weeds are thrown?
22. What season was it when Jesus gave this message?
23. Why does Matthew not tell of the account of Jesus almost getting thrown off of a cliff by the Jews?
24. What did Isaiah mean when he said, “For this people’s hearts will be calloused”?
25. With yeast, was Jesus saying that the kingdom of heaven increases whatever is little?
The Gospel and the Arts
This is a clip from a musical written in 1971 called Godspell. The play dramatizes the Gospel of Matthew with a number illustrations. This particular clip concerns the parable of the sower and the four soils.
After reading this passage through and through for several hours in order to write a commentary on it, the contrast between the biblical illustration and this dramatization are quite different. The audience must be kept in mind though in order for any sort of good to come from this. In the Bible, the audience was made of Jews, most of who understood farming culture. They did not come to Jesus to be entertained but to learn and so Jesus taught. On Broadway, most people come to be entertained and be made to laugh. The Bible should never be merely an object of entertainment, but parts of it can be used in entertaining ways. Whether or not such a light and happy-go-lucky mood should have been project onto scripture like it was is open for debate, but what I believe is good from this clip is that it provides a visual aid to help get the point of the parable across to a crowd that would not usually intentionally study scripture.
An Alternate Version of the Parable of the Pearl
Geoff grew up in a relatively poor home. He had enough most of the time, but he never had in abundance. His favorite thing, his passion, his joy cost quit a bit of money though: cars. Geoff's dad knew everything about cars. He knew how they worked, how to drive them, and even the latest6 technology that was coming out. Geoff learned everything about cars from his dad. On the weekends, he would go down to the mechanic's garage down at that end of the block and watch them work on the really nice that rich people brought over.
Geoff went to college, graduated, and then got a job at an office but never had the experience of driving a car that belonged to him. He had driven other cars, but never his own. On weekends that weren't spent doing odd jobs to make ends meet, Geoff would go on-line and click throuigh websites to see if there were any outstanding deals. There never were.
On a warm summer Saturday after noon, Geoff, walking to his mailbox, went past his neighbor who, once again, was tinkering around under the hood of his car. It wasn't anything impressive, just a regular sedan. But that guy had such freedom in working under the hood of a vehicle. Geoff missed that feeling. Geoff didn't even make it to his mail before he was back inside looking on-line for something, anything, that he could call his own. He clicked through pages and pages of used car dealerships filled with dented fords and Hondas that still smelled like the milk that was spilled on the seat three years ago but all were, of course, "in great shape!"
He began to get impatient with his lack of luck and sped through the next page. And the next. And the... wait a minute. That shiny red coat of paint isn't something you see every day. Before he clicked to enlarge the picture, Geoff knew that this car, the Ferrari Enzo, was exactly what he wanted. As big as this find was, the price was even bigger. It wasn't enough to deter his interest in the car though. Geoff called the owner of the car, hoping to strike a deal. Maybe he would understand his financial situation and cut hima deal or at least hold the car until he could make a down payment when he had enough money.
Geoff typed the number on the computer into the phone and waited for a voice to answer. After the first ring, Geoff realized that this person might just flat out say no to his offer without hesitation. After all, he didn't have much to offer that would be of value. What was he thinking? What was he even giong to say? How much money did he even have in his bank account? "Hello?" answered a man on the other side of the phone. "Hello!" Geoff blurted out. After a few seconds of silence, Geoff remembered that it would only be polite to explain who he was and why had called. he finished explining the nature of his call and the financial situation he was in and waited for a reply from the owner of the car. "So you want me to cut you a deal because you're broke but you want this car anyway?" "Yes, sir," said Geoff, emberassed about his request. "I wouldn't have asked if I didn't love cars so much." "Really?" the man replied. Geoff proceeded to explain why he loved cars so much and told the owner of the Ferrari thank you for his time.
"Wait," the man said. "I have a whole garage full of these cars and I can't drive them all. I want other people to have some of them too, but I don't want them to fall into the hands of people who don't care about them or who can't even drive them. You seem like you would appreciate this car a lot more than many other people who could pay me in full would. Just to make sure that you really want this car, pay me what you can. Whatever you cannot, consider it a gift."
Albright, W. F., and C. S. Mann. "Parables of the Kingdom. Unbelief." The Anchor Bible. 26. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1971. Print.
Carson, D. A. "Third Discrourse: The Parables of the Kingdom.” “The Glory and the Shadow: Progressive Polarization." The Expositor's Bible Commmentary. 8. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publihing House, 1984. Print.
Hagner, Donald A. "The Third Discourse:Teaching in Parables (Matthew 13:1-58)." Word Biblical Commentary. 33a. Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1993. Print.
Hendriksen, William. "Matthew Chapter XIII." New Testament Commentary. 1. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1995. Print.
Johnson, Sherman E. "Matthew Chapter 13." The interpreter's Bible: New Testament Articles. 7. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1951. Print.
Lampe, G. W. K. "Parable." Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible. 3. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1962.