He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’ He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’
Translation: Another parable he placed before them saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard that someone took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all the seeds of the field, the smallest certainly of all the seeds, but when it is grown it is greatest of all vegetables and becomes a tree so that the birds of the heavens come and live in its branches.' Another parable he spoke to them, 'The kingdom of heaven is like leaven which a woman took and mixed in with three gallons of flour until it was mixed whole.'"
Background and situation: This is the third reading in a row from chapter 13, a chapter of parables. The parables highlight Jesus' role as teacher, important in Matthew's gospel.
Matthew's source for the parable of the mustard seed was Mark (4:30-32), though Matthew gets the "tree" part from Q. The parable of the leaven appears to come from Q--see the parallel in Luke 13:20-21. The gospel of Thomas also includes both parables. Similarly, Matthew 13: 44-52 appear to be Special Matthew, included also in Thomas.
The word for "parable" is parabole--literally, "thrown alongside." Parables are stories "thrown alongside" life, you might say, which prompt comparisons and contrasts between the story and life as we know it. Paul Tillich had his "method of correlation" which called for points of contact and comparison between the faith and the world. Parables do something like that.
Parable of the mustard seed: The parables of Jesus sometimes use hyperbole, as in the parable of the mustard seed. A mustard seed is small, but it is not the smallest of all the seeds.
In this story, the mustard seed first grows into a laxanon, which means either "garden herb" or "vegetable." Laxanon refers to a plant that was planted on purpose. Matthew adds that this vegetable grow into a "tree". (The tree does not appear in the original version of the story we have in Mark.)
Perhaps Matthew didn't think a garden vegetable was a grand enough comparison for the kingdom of heaven. More likely, Matthew is making a hyperlink to Daniel 4: 10-22, particularly verses 11-12, which use a tree as an image for the great kingdom of God which is visible to all and for all:
11The tree grew great and strong, its top reached to heaven, and it was visible to the ends of the whole earth. 12Its foliage was beautiful, its fruit abundant, and it provided food for all. The animals of the field found shade under it, the birds of the air nested in its branches, and from it all living beings were fed.
Likewise, see Ezekial 17: 22-23 where the Lord God takes a sprig "from the lofty top of a cedar" and will plant it on the "mountain height of Israel" where it will produce fruit and become a "noble cedar":
Under it every kind of bird will live; in the shade of its branches will nest winged creatures of every kind.
He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?” 28He answered, “An enemy has done this.” The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” 29But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” ’
Translation: He placed before them another parable, saying, "The kingdom of heaven is like a human being who sowed good seed in his field, but while the people slept, his enemy came and he sowed tares in the midst of the wheat and he left. But when the blade sprouted and made fruit, then was made manifest the tares also. But the servants of the householder came (and) said to him, "Lord, did you not sow good seed into your field? Why, then, does it have tares?" But he was saying to them, "A human enemy did this." But they say to him, "Do you wish us to go that we might gather it?" But he says, "No, lest when you gather the tares, you might pluck up the wheat along with them. Leave both to grow together until the harvest, and, in the time of harvest, I will say to the reapers, 'Gather first the tares and bind them into bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.'"
Background and situation: The parable of the weeds, otherwise known as the parable of the wheat and the tares, follows immediately after the parable of the sower (13: 1-23). It appears to come from a source other than either Mark or Q. The only parallel is in the Gospel of Thomas (57).
Chapter 13 of Matthew is made up of a string of parables, many, like this one, introduced by alle, "another." This tends to give the section a cohesive quality, and again accentuates Jesus in the role of teacher, an important theme in Matthew.
The enemy sows "air heads": Jesus starts off by saying that the kingdom of heaven was like a person who sowed good seed in a field, but "while the people slept, his enemy came."
The enemy sowed zizania--otherwise known as tares, darnel, cockle, or, technically, lolium temulentum. It's a weed that, especially in its early stages, looks like wheat, but instead of producing edible grain, produces only bitter-tasting seeds. (So the exegetes say. Anybody raised on a farm would recognize it immediately.)
At maturity, the weight of the grain in the wheat bends the heads down. Since there's not much of anything in the heads of darnel, the plant continues to stand straight. Darnel is, thusly, a plant of "air heads." It looks pretty good, in other words, but there's nothing there. (One wonders: What does that say about the relationship between the kingdom and the enemy?)
This also explains why it was only after the plants grew up and produced fruit that the weeds "appeared." The word is ephane, which comes from the word for "light," and is in the passive voice. "Brought to light" would be a good translation.
The fruit of the "good seed" revealed the hollowness of the bad seed. The fruit of the good seed illuminated the failure of the weeds to produce fruit.
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the lake. 2Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3And he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9Let anyone with ears listen!’
Translation: On that day, Jesus went out of the house (and) was sitting alongside the sea, and great crowds were gathered together to him so that he entered into a ship to sit down and all the people stood upon the shore. And he spoke much to them in parables, saying, "Behold! The sowing one went out to sow. And as he sowed, some indeed fell beside the way, and the birds came to eat them. But others fell upon stony places where they were not having much soil, and immediately they sprung up because they did not have depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched and, because they did not have a root, they were withered. But others fell among the thorns, and the thorns climbed up and choked them. But others fell upon the good earth, and they were giving fruit, some indeed a hundredfold, but some sixty, but some thirty. The one having ears, let that one hear."
Background and situation: Father Robert Capon says that the parable of the sower is the touchstone of all the parables. He notes its primacy of place in all three synoptics. Even the gnostic Gospel of Thomas includes the parable of the sower.
In Matthew, the parable of the sower is the first of a string of parables that follow one after another in chapter 13. The parable of the sower sets the stage for all the parables that follow.
The lection begins with Jesus leaving the house. He "goes out" to the sea just as the sower would soon "go out" to sow. This would apparently be his own house, and the same one where he had just refused entrance to his own relatives (12: 46-48).
At the sea, "great crowds" flock around Jesus. The word is sunago, and means that the people "gathered together" around Jesus. He is at the center of the people. This is not surprising. Jesus had significant support in the region of the Sea of Galilee. The people loved Jesus and thrilled to his message. He is presented as a "man of the people."
Then, he gets into a boat. The stated reason is that Jesus needs a place to sit--he needs to sit in order to assume the posture of a teacher. This gives Jesus a bit of distance from the crowd which continues to stand on the beach. Matthew has moved Jesus from being "man of the people" to being "authoritative teacher."
What a deft piece of political theater. Jesus is sitting in a fishing boat, which is, quite literally, on the sea. In a sense, Jesus is speaking to and for all the people who try to make a living from the Sea of Galilee. (It's not for nothing that fishermen were some of Jesus' first supporters.)
Jesus may have had a home at Capernaum, perhaps the most important harbor city on the entire Sea of Galilee, which also made it an important communications center for the region. He also traveled to many other towns and villages that lie on the sea, including Magdala, home of Mary Magdalene, his frequent companion.
In May, the bishops of the Church of Sweden called climate change "the greatest challenged ever faced by humanity."
In a recent interview, the archbishop of Uppsala, Antje Jackelén, noting that it had taken 850 years for a woman to become an arcnbishop in Sweden, noted also in regard to climate change:
We are most concerned because, as the church, we are part of a global movement, and we have relationships with people of—Christian people and people of other faiths in other parts of the world who are already affected and ask the questions of justice. And the question of justice is at the heart of the Christian Church. So, it’s a question of climate justice, as well. That’s just one reason why we do this.
The other reason is that it is not just an issue you can solve with technology and science. We need that, of course. It’s not just an issue about economy, although we need a lot of development in the economy. But it is also an issue of what do we believe, what can we hope for, what is the role of the human being in the world. So it’s utterly an existential and religious question, and we should address it as people of faith. And we should ask the question: What really is realistic to hope for?
‘But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market-places and calling to one another, 17“We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.” 18For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon”; 19the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!” Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.’
Translation: "But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces who call out to the others, saying, 'We piped to you, and you did not dance. We wailed and you did not lament.' For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon.' The son of humanity came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Behold, a glutinous person and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.' And wisdom has been justified from her deeds."
Background and situation: The section is mostly Q. See the parallel in Luke (7: 31-35, 10: 21-22). The closing words--"come unto me..."--have a partial parallel in the Gospel of Thomas (90).
The lection is part of the third major section of Matthew's gospel, the main theme of which is opposition to Jesus and the struggle between faith and doubt. The section begins with the doubts of John the Baptist (11:2), followed by Jesus' response to John and then a paean to John, one which contains a swipe at the Temple bureaucracy. John was not one to waltz around in fancy robes, said Jesus, but we certainly know the ones who do (11:8).
At the time Matthew was written, the "Jesus movement" was still quite fragile and far from unified. They were still small in number, and had various frictions, both within the church and outside it.
They worried about defections from their movement, and not without reason. "Falling away" from the church is not a new phenomenon. What's more, the people were still recovering from a particularly bloody war. Into that situation, Matthew tells us of the "Jesus movement," which, though popular and with widespread support in Galilee, nevertheless had its share of problems.
Children call to "the others": Jesus compares "this generation" to children. Most commentators seem to read verse 17 as children squabbling with each other. The children are portrayed as engaged in a mindless back-and-forth. They respond neither to the harsh message of John nor the gracious message of Jesus.
One's interpretation depends on how you read eterois--"the other ones." The children "call out to the other ones," which could mean the other children, in which case the children are portrayed as bickering and out-of-sync with each other. No matter what we did, says one group to the other, you wouldn't go along. We tried being joyous, and that didn't grab you. Then, we tried being funereal, and that didn't grab you either.
Or, one might also read the verse as children calling to "the others," who could be anyone other than children, i.e. their elders, the people who really run things. In that case, the children seem to have some life in them, both joy and sorrow, but can't get any reaction from the people in charge, who are portrayed as out-of-touch and lifeless. This latter interpretation seems to make more sense.
40“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; 42and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”
Translation: The one receiving you receives me and the one receiving me receives the one who sent me. The one receiving a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet's reward. And the one who receives justice in the name of a just person will receive a reward of justice. And whoever might give a drink of cool water alone to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple, truly I say to you, that one might surely not destroy his reward.
Background: Matthew was writing around AD 80-85, which means that Matthew is literature from the post-war period. It follows the devastation of the Roman-Jewish War of AD 66-70 when blood ran in the streets of Jerusalem and the Temple was destroyed.
Matthew is at a few years remove from Mark, his primary source. (Mark wrote during or just after the devastation.) While Matthew's over-all "mood" is not as dark as Mark's, it is clear that Matthew's church saw themselves as fragile, vulnerable, and under threat.
Most of chapter 10 consists of sayings from Q which Matthew uses to argue that followers of Jesus may expect to meet the same resistance met by Jesus. The final three verses of this section--those included in our lection--appear to be not Q. 10:40 is quite similar to John 13:20, 10:41 is found only in Matthew, and 10:42 has a near parallel in Mark 9:41.
The immediate situation: Chapter 10 begins Book Two of Matthew's gospel, the focus of which is mission. It begins with Jesus calling the Twelve, giving them authority, and naming them. They are sent to do the same things Jesus had been doing--"Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons" (10:8)--everything Jesus had been doing, with the exception of teaching.
More than any other gospel, Matthew values Jesus as Teacher. The disciples have begun their period of instruction under Jesus, but they're just getting started. They don't know near enough yet in order for them to be able to teach others. Only in chapter 28, when the entire gospel is completed, do the disciples finally get the go-ahead to teach others. Only then are they enjoined to "teach all that I have commanded." (28:16) As for now, eighteen chapters yet remain in Matthew's gospel and Jesus has much more to teach.
‘A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; 25it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!
Translation: A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above his lord. Enough for the disciple that that one may become like his teacher, and the slave like his lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more the ones of his household?
Background and situation: The book of Matthew has five major sections, each one featuring an extended teaching by Jesus. (These five teaching sections mirror the five books of Moses.) The Sermon on the Mount is the first major speech; the discourse on missionary activity in chapter 10 is the second.
At the beginning of chapter 10, Jesus gave the twelve disciples authority over unclean spirits. The disciples are then named, and sent out. Verses 5-23 have to do with mission strategy and facing opposition.
Versions of some of the verses in this text appear in Mark, Luke, John, and Thomas. The section from 10:26-33 has a parallel in Luke 12:2-10; 10:34-36 has a parallel in Thomas. Verse 39 has a parallel in Mark, Luke, and John.
Slave not above his master: Our lection this week begins with two proverbial sayings, the purpose of which seems to be to inform the disciples that followers of Jesus should not expect different treatment than what Jesus himself received. Jesus faced persecution, and, therefore, it should not be surprising that his followers will face persecution as well.
Matthew was writing around AD 80-85, which means that this is post-war literature. It follows the devastation of the Roman-Jewish War of AD 66-70 when blood ran in the streets of Jerusalem and the Temple was destroyed.
During and after the war, significant numbers of Jerusalem residents fled to the northern regions (Galilee, Syria) in order to escape the siege of Jerusalem. In the north, pharisees tended to dominate and took the lead in organizing and settling these war-time refugees. With the Temple now destroyed, the local synagogue and local rabbis became the focal point of Jewish life.
16Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Translation: And the eleven disciples journeyed into the Galilee, into the mountain where Jesus had directed them. And seeing him, they worshiped, but they doubted. And Jesus came (and) spoke to them, saying, "All power has been given to me in heaven and upon the earth. As you have gone, therefore, teach all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to keep all as I commanded you. And behold! I am with you all the days until the consummation of the eternal."
Background and situation: These are the closing words of Matthew's gospel. As is characteristic for Matthew's gospel, Jesus is again presented as Moses-like, yet greater-than Moses. Like Moses, he speaks on a mountain and gives commandments. As greater-than Moses, he now commands "all authority."
The Holy Trinity: This is the gospel reading for Holy Trinity Sunday, the only day of the church year said to be dedicated specifically to a doctrinal position.
In reality, of course, all church holidays are about some aspect of doctrine. Christmas, for example, is not at all the "birthday of Jesus," but a holy day of the church dedicated to the incarnation, a doctrinal teaching which counters the heresies of gnosticism and docetism.
The lection is likely chosen because of its reference to "the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." The saying is anachronistic for the time of Jesus, who, bereft of expensive seminary education, would likely have been thoroughly mystified by something called "trinitarian theology."
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Judeans, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’
Translation: Therefore, being evening of that day, the first of sabbath, the doors having been shut where the disciples were because of the fear of the Judeans, Jesus came and stood in the midst and he said to them, "Peace to you." And when he said this, he showed to them the hands and the side. Then, the disciples rejoiced, seeing the Lord. Then, Jesus said to them again, "Peace to you. Just as the Father has sent me, so I send you." And when he had said this, he breathed and said to them, "Receive the holy spirit. If you release the sins of any, they have been released to them, and if you might hold (the sins) of any, they have been held."
Background and situation: It is the evening of Easter. The doors "had been shut" by the disciples because of their fear of the Judeans (ioudaioi). Fear of the Judeans would not be unreasonable, considering that Jesus had just been crushed by Judean forces.
To recap from other posts on the fourth gospel, the fourth gospel is an argument between a Galilean and a Judean worldview. The Judean worldview, in a nutshell, is the view from the top, i.e. the Temple leadership and their allies, the ruling families of Jerusalem, and, in turn, their allies, the Romans. The Judean position is marked by division and barriers--rich vs. poor, Jew vs. Samaritan, insider vs. outsider.
The New Creation: Our lection is Pentecost according to the Fourth Gospel. The Lukan account in Acts has become so associated as the Pentecost story that the fourth gospel's view is often given short shrift. The fourth gospel also speaks of the coming of the Spirit, though in a much different way than in Luke. In the fourth gospel, there is no amorphous wind or forty day waiting period, and the Spirit comes directly from the breath of Jesus on the day of the New Creation.