THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
Lesson 16, Chapters 12:22 - 13:53
Narrative #3 continued: Diverse responses to Jesus' Teachings and Actions (Mt 12:22-50) and
Discourse #3: The Parables of the Kingdom (Mt 13:1-53)
Eternal God and Father,
Give us, Lord, the faith of a little child that we may completely trust Your message of salvation made known to us through the words and works of Jesus the Christ. Help us to continually humble ourselves and submit ourselves to Your judgments that we might avoid the arrogance of the Pharisees who were blinded by their pride and could not accept St. John the Baptist's call to repentance and Jesus' call to salvation. Send us Your Spirit, Lord, to guide us in our study. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
+ + +
that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book; and out of gloom and
darkness, the eyes of the blind shall see. The lowly will ever find joy in the
LORD, and the poor rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.
Matthew 11:2-12:50 is organized in a triad of thematic divisions focusing on the unbelief of the people in two sections and followed by Jesus' invitation to come to faith and to accept Him as the Messiah in the third. Matthew 11:2-30 has the first of the three-part triads and 12:1-21 contains the second. In Matthew 12:22-50 we see the third 3-part division:
The Pharisees accused Jesus of violating the Law by "working" on the Sabbath (Mt 12:1-2, 10). To willfully reject the covenant command and to be engaged in manual labor instead of worshipping God on the Sabbath was a death penalty offense under the prohibitions of the Sinai Covenant (Ex 31:15). Jesus challenged the Pharisees' understanding of the covenant command by teaching that acts of mercy and ministry are acceptable "works" on the Sabbath (Mt 12:1-14), and He told them He has the authority from God to offer such a teaching (Mt 12:6-8). The Pharisees are so outraged by Jesus' actions and His teaching that, for the first time, the Pharisees went out [from the Synagogue where Jesus healed the man with the withered hand] and took counsel against him to put him to death (Mt 12:14).
When the Pharisees left the Synagogue to plan His death, Jesus left that place but continued to heal the people who came to Him (Mt 12:15). Unwilling to let the matter rest, the Pharisees tested Jesus again by bringing Him a man possessed by a demon who was both deaf and mute. It is likely the events in chapters 11-13 took place in Capernaum. In 13:36 Jesus dismisses the crowd and goes into "the house," probably Peter's house in Capernaum (Mt 8:14).
Matthew 12:22-37 ~ Jesus Cures a Deaf and Mute Demonic
and is accused of being Beelzebul's Servant (Unbelief /rejection)
22 Then they brought to him a demoniac who was blind and mute. He cured the mute person so that he could speak and see. 23 All the crowd was astounded, and said, "Could this perhaps be the Son of David?" 24 But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, "This man drives out demons only by the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons." 25 But he knew what they were thinking and said to them, "Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste, and not town or house divided against itself will stand. 26 And if Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself; how, then, will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your own people drive them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 How can anyone enter a strong man's house and steal his property, unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house. 30 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. 31 Therefore, I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come."
Encouraged by the healing of the man with the deformed hand, the people brought Jesus a man whose possession by demons had left him both blind and mute and therefore completely cut off from his family and the covenant community. Jesus' healing of the deaf and dumb demonic man is a fulfillment of Isaiah 29:18-19: On that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book; and out of gloom and darkness, the eyes of the blind shall see. The lowly will ever find joy in the LORD, and the poor rejoice in the Holy One of Israel. It is also a metaphor for the healing Jesus is offering to the covenant people.
Question: Compare the condition of the man to the
condition of Jesus' generation of the covenant people.
Answer: Like the unclean spirit that left the man a prisoner who was both blind and without proper speech, the people who have refused St. John's baptism of repentance are prisoners of sin "it is their unrepentant sins that blind their eyes to Jesus' miracles and prevent them from proclaiming with their voices that He is the Messiah who was promised.
Jesus stands opposed to the Pharisees excessive legalism in their interpretation of the Law, emphasizing that God desires instead works of mercy and a contrite and repentant heart.(1) Jesus has already faced several challenges/accusations by the scribes and Pharisees:
Matthew 12:24 is their seventh challenge, but it is the repeat of any earlier accusation.
Question: The healing of the demonic that was both
blind and mute is a greater miracle than the healing of the man with the
withered hand. The common people are astonished as ask "Could this perhaps
be the Son of David?" But, instead of praising Jesus' miraculous healing as
a work of God, what is the reaction of the Pharisees?
Answer: They accused Him of healing by the power of the prince of demons, Beelzebul.
The Pharisees made this accusation among themselves, but Jesus, being God, knew what they were thinking (verse 25). This is the second time Jesus has been accused of healing by the power of Beelzebul, "the prince of demons" (see 9:34). Beelzebul (or Baal-zebub) was the Philistines' name for the Canaanite god Baal worshiped at Ekron (2 Kng 1:2-3, 6 and 16). After the god El, El's son, Baal, was the chief deity of the Canaanite pantheon. The original name probably meant "lord of the lofty abode," but the Israelites altered the pagan deity's name to ridicule the false god in calling it Baal-zebub, "lord of flies." Later the name was altered again to Beel-zebul, meaning "lord of dung." Jesus has already been accused of blasphemy (Mt 9:3). He has warned His disciples of being accused of being agents of Beelzebul (Mt 10:25) and He has been accused of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebul, "the prince of demons" in this encounter with the Pharisees; it is a charge He denies (also see Mk 3:22-26; Lk 11:15-19).
Jesus uses three arguments to refute the Pharisees claim that He exorcises demons by the power of Beelzebul/Satan.
Question: What is the first argument Jesus uses to
reveal the senselessness of their claim?
Answer: Their accusation is not reasonable. Jesus is casting out demons, an act that is opposing Satan not advancing Satan's power over the earth. Why, Jesus asks the rhetorical question, would Satan give Jesus the power to weaken Satan's hold over men and to threaten Satan's kingdom.
Question: The chief priests, Levites and Pharisees
also had men with the power to perform exorcisms, therefore, Jesus asks: 27 And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by
whom do your own people drive them out? What is Jesus' second argument in
His own defense?
Answer: If a demon can only be driven out by the power of Satan, then their own exorcists also drive out demons by the same power. Jesus challenges the Pharisees to let their own exorcists answer their accusation. But, if they admit that they drive out demons by the power of the Spirit of God, then it must be concluded that Jesus has the same power and they must admit that the kingdom of God has come upon you (verse 28).
In His third line of defense Jesus asks: 29 How can anyone enter a strong man's house and steal his property, unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house.
Question: Who is the "strong man," what is his "house,"
and what is his "property"? How is Jesus "tying up the strong man"? See Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11.
Answer: The strong man is Satan ("the prince/ruler of this world"), his house is the earth, and his property consists of those who are not the children of God. By casting out demons, Jesus is tying up the "strong man's (Satan) power and plundering his "house."
This interpretation is made clear in Jesus' next statement in verse 30: 30 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters (also see Lk 11:23). Those who are with Jesus belong to God and whoever does not follow Jesus is against God's plan for the coming of the Kingdom. He has come to shepherd His people and to proclaim the Kingdom by gathering the lost sheep of Israel (Ez 34:11-16; Mt 2:6 [Mic 5:1]; Mt 15:24), while the Pharisees who stand in opposition to Him are the wicked shepherds who scatter the sheep (Ez 34:1-6). There is no middle ground. Jesus' statement in verse 30 is the second of five authoritative statements Jesus makes in chapter 12 (the first was in 12:6).
Matthew 12:31-32 ~ 31 Therefore, I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come."
Question: This passage speaks of the one unpardonable
sin. What is that sin? See Mk 3:29; Lk 12:10; CCC 679 and 1864.
Answer: God places no limits upon His mercy in the offer of His gift of salvation by the Holy Spirit through the sacrifice of Christ Jesus. The Church teaches that every human sin, no matter how heinous, can be repented and forgiven with one exception: anyone who deliberately and repeatedly refuses to accept God's mercy and the gift of eternal life offered by the Holy Spirit up to the moment he takes his last breath in death commits the final sin that is past pardoning and that person condemns himself to the loss of eternal life.
... but whoever speaks against the holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. Under the old covenants ever since the Fall of Adam, the heavens were closed and all who died descended to the "grave" or Sheol in Hebrew (CCC 536, 1026). Sheol was a place of punishment for sins and purification for the wicked and a place of rest and waiting in the company of Father Abraham for the righteous as the waited for the "age to come" and the Redeemer-Messiah (see Jesus description of Sheol in Lk 16:19-31; the purification of the elect and the wicked in Wis 3:1-12 and CCC 633). Even in Sheol is was possible to be purified and to be forgiven one's sins. It was for this reason that Job prayed for his children (Job 1:5) and Judas Maccabeus offered sacrifices for his young soldiers killed in battle who were discovered to have pagan amulets hidden under their tunics: Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from this sin (2 Mac 12:46). See CCC 1032. It would have been startling for the people to hear that in the Kingdom Jesus was proclaiming that both blessings and punishments were now eternal and certain sins could not be forgiven after death.
This is consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church. Sheol will exist and have a purpose until the Second Coming of Christ and the Final Judgment when both death and Sheol will be destroyed because there is no longer any reason for either the state of physical death or a place of purification (Rev 21:14). After His death, Jesus descended to Sheol (Hades in the Greek) to preach the Gospel of salvation to the souls imprisoned there and to liberated those made righteous by His sacrifice (1 Pt 3:18-20; 4:6). After the liberation of the righteous from Sheol, the righteous were no longer held there but all dying in a state of perfect grace without the stain of any sin or any penance for sin still clinging to their souls immediately entered the gates of heaven after their individual judgment. However, God in His mercy made allowances for those righteous souls who, although dying in a state of grace, still had to account for mortal sins that had been forgiven in the Sacrament of Reconciliation where penance was still required or for unconfessed venial sins. These souls were to be purified by God's fiery love until their souls reached the necessary perfection to enter into the divine Presence.
The Church now calls this state of purification Purgatory
St. Paul wrote about the process of purification by the fiery love of God in 1 Corinthians 3:11-15: ... for no one can lay a foundation other than the one that is there, namely Jesus Christ. If anyone build on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, the work of each will come to light, for the Day [of Judgment] will disclose it. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire [itself] will test the quality of each one's work. If the work stands that someone built upon the foundation, that person will receive a wage. But if someone's work is burned up, that one will suffer loss; the person will be saved, but only as through fire.
It is significant that the healing of the blind and mute demonic is the last miracle Jesus' works before altering His direct teaching on the coming of the Kingdom by teaching in parables. The condition of the last man Jesus healed is symbolic of the condition of covenant people.
Matthew 12:33-37 ~ Jesus Continues Answering the
Pharisees' Accusation (Unbelief/rejection continued)
33 "Either declare the tree good and its fruit is good, or declare the tree rotten and its fruit is rotten, for a tree is known by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers, how can you say good things when you are evil? For from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 A good person brings forth good out of a store of goodness, but an evil person brings forth evil out a store of evil. 36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will render an account for every careless word they speak. 37 By your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned."
For from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks ... You will recall that in the Bible the heart of a person represents the total essence of that person "for good and for evil.
Jesus gives the Pharisees another warning using another of the covenant images of the Old Testament prophets "a tree and its fruit:
Examples in Scripture
Well-tended vineyard/fruitful fig tree
Vines grow wild/failure to produce good fruit
Joel 1:7; 11-12
Weeds overgrow vineyard/ ruin and destruction
Vines are replanted/
fruitfulness of the tree restored
John 15:1-2, 4-6
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower ...I am the vine, you are the branches ...
The four reoccurring symbolic images of the prophets representing the people's covenant relationship with God are (1) marriage, (2) the fruitful vine and tree, (3) domesticated animals, and (4) drinking wine (See the chart "The Symbolic Images of the Prophets").
Question: When has Jesus used the other symbolic
images of the prophets in His teaching?
Answer: He used the marriage imagery in 9:15 when He spoke of Himself as the bridegroom; He used the domesticated animal imagery when He spoke of Himself as the merciful Master and His light "yoke" in 11:29; and in 12:33 He uses the fruitful tree imagery for good works and the rotten fruit for bad deeds.
Look for when these symbolic images of the Old Testament prophets that Jesus will use repeatedly in Matthew's Gospel, including His last act prior to giving up His life on the Cross.
Question: What is Jesus' point concerning the
Answer: Good fruit (good works) come from good trees (good people) and bad fruit (evil works) come from bad trees (people with evil intentions). The malicious accusations of the Pharisees reveal the malice and evil in their hearts "their rotten "fruit" that identifies them as evil.
St. John the Baptist's disciples wanted a Messiah breathing fire and judgment, as John predicted in his harsh condemnation of the Pharisees and Sadducees in Matthew 3:7-12. In this chapter Jesus shows that He has come to fulfill all the prophecies associated with the Redeemer-Messiah, including His power and authority to judge the covenant people and their leaders. He has already rebuked His generation (Mt 11:16-19) and called down a covenant judgment on three cities of the northern Galilee (Mt 11:20-24). Now He rebukes the leadership of the Old Covenant people with the same words St. John used, calling them a "brood of vipers" (Mt 3:7) "in other words, children of the great Serpent, Satan, who God prophesied would stand in opposition to the Redeemer-Messiah, the prophesied "seed of the Woman." In Genesis 3:15, God told the Serpent: I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring [seed] and hers [her seed]; he will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel. Jesus will continue His condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees (who are already planning His death) for demanding to see a "sign" of His authority (Mt 12:38-45).
Matthew 12:36-36 ~ I tell you, on the day of judgment people will render an account for every careless word they speak. 37 By your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned."
Question: How do these verses summarize Jesus'
Answer: Words reveal the true character (heart) of a person. On Judgment Day everyone will be held accountable for their "bad fruit" in the thoughtless and hurtful words they speak.
Matthew 12:38-42 ~ The Pharisees Demand a "Sign"
(Unbelief/rejection part 2)
38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, "Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you." 39 He said to them in reply, "An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah the prophet. 40 Just as Jonah was in the belly of the whale three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights. 41 At the judgment, the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and there is something greater than Jonah here. 42 At the judgment the queen of the south will arise with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and there is something greater than Solomon here."
A "sign" is not a synonymous with a miracle. The Pharisees are asking for a "sign" that is evidence of Jesus' divine authority to support the claims He makes. For example:
St. Paul wrote about the Jews desire for "signs": For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Cor 1:22-24).
Matthew 12:39-40 ~ He said to them in reply, "An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah the prophet. 40 Just as Jonah was in the belly of the whale three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights."
Jesus mentions the Galilean prophet Jonah 6 times in 5 verses in Matthew's Gospel:
|1. Matthew 12:39||but no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah the prophet.|
|2. Matthew 12:40||Just as Jonah was in the belly of the whale three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.|
|3. & 4. Matthew 12:41 (twice)||At the judgment, the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and there is something greater than Jonah here.|
|5. Matthew 16:4||An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given except the sign of Jonah.|
|6. Matthew 16:17||Jesus said to him in reply, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father."|
Jonah son of Amittai was the 8th century BC prophet from Gath-hepher in the Galilee (2 Kng 14:25), a town located on the west side of the Sea of Galilee, in the territory of Zebulun (Josh 19:13). St. Jerome identified Jonah's village and the location of his tomb two miles from Sepphoris on the road to Tiberius (Jerome, Commentary on Jonah).
Question: What was Jonah's mission? See Jon 1:1-3;
2:1, 11; 3:1-10.
Answer: Jonah's mission was to tell the non-Israelite, Gentile people of Nineveh to repent their sins or their city would be destroyed. At first Jonah resisted his mission, but when he relented God freed him from being entombed in the whale and he was free to carry out his mission to the people of Nineveh. When the people repented, they were saved.
Jesus identifies the "sign" His generation will receive with the three days and nights Jonah was entombed in the whale/great fish (Jon 2:1).
Question: How many days and nights was Jesus in the
tomb as the ancients counted (without the concept of zero as a place value)
from Friday to Sunday?
Answer: Friday, Saturday, and morning Sunday are three days but not three nights.
Jesus in not in error, He is referring to the Scriptural significance of the number "three" and a symbolic link to the prophet Jonah. In Scripture the number three is one of the so called symbolic "perfect numbers." The number three signifies completeness or perfection and points to what is solid, real, and substantial. As a number which indicates completeness, the number three always identifies some important event in Salvation History.
Question: How will Jonah's entombment in the whale
and his liberation that is a symbolic "rebirth" three days later, resulting in
Jonah carrying God's message of repentance and forgiveness to the people of
Nineveh, be the only "sign" for Jesus' generation? What is the two-fold
Answer: First, like Jonah's "death and rebirth" experience, Jesus' rebirth will follow His death. Jesus' Resurrection, like Jonah's resurrection, will bring about the repentance and salvation of the Gentile nations. The only "sign" Jesus' generation will receive of His divine authority will be His death and Resurrection.
Matthew 12:41-42 ~ At the judgment, the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and there is something greater than Jonah here. 42 At the judgment the queen of the south will arise with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and there is something greater than Solomon here."
In another reference to the Last Judgment, Jesus says the works of faith of the pagan people of Nineveh and the pagan Queen of Sheba will count on the Day of Judgment.
Question: What is the irony of the comparison Jesus
makes between His generation and the Gentiles of Nineveh and the Gentile Queen
Answer: The irony of Jesus' statements increase in these verses as He names a Gentile people who repented after heading the warning of God's prophet (Jon 3:1) and a Gentile queen who traveled across a continent to hear the "wisdom of Solomon" (1 Kng 10:1-13), and yet His own people are rejecting a prophet greater than Jonah and greater then Solomon.
Question: What are the three "something greater than"
statements that Jesus makes in chapter 12? See 12:6, 41 and 42. What does
Jesus mean by these "greater than" statements?
Jesus is plundering the "kingdom" of Satan and establishing His own kingdom "he is greater than the Jerusalem Temple, greater than the works of Jonah, and greater than Israel's greatest king, Solomon.
Question: What is the significance of the five claims
Jesus makes in 12:6, 30, 36-37, 41 and 42? See CCC 590.
Answer: Jesus makes five claims that point to His authority as the divine Messiah who brings the revelation of God to His restored people and who will judge their sins at the end of the Messianic Age. See CCC 590.
Matthew 12:43-45 ~ Jesus' Warning Concerning Unclean Spirits (Unbelief/rejection part 2 continued)
43 "When an unclean spirit goes out of a person it roams through arid regions searching for rest but finds none. 44 Then it says, I will return to my home from which I came.' But upon returning, it finds it empty, swept clean, and put in order. 45 Then it goes and brings back with itself seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they move in and dwell there; and the last condition of that person is worse than the first. Thus it will be with this evil generation."
Question: What happens when an unclean spirit/demon
is cast out?
Answer: Something else needs to fill the space left vacant in the person's soul. If the person does not fill the void with what is holy, the demon will return with greater force.
If Jesus' generation persists in resisting His call to repentance and purification, they will grow worse. He has come to heal them, but refusal to repent will only be an invitation to fall more deeply into sin and further away from God. What Jesus said is also true of those who reject the Gospel message of salvation today or rejects Christ's vehicle of salvation "His Church. If one doesn't make God the center of one's life, one will find other "gods" in a futile attempt to fill the empty space "material possessions, self-worship, work, alcohol and other addictions.
Matthew 12:46-50 ~ Jesus Defines His Family
46 While he was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers appeared outside, wishing to speak with him. 47 Someone told him, "Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, asking to speak with you." 48 But he said in reply to the one who told him, "Who is my mother? Who are my brothers? 49 And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother."
Jesus' mother, Mary, and His kinsmen have traveled from Nazareth to see Him. It has always been a teaching of the Church that Mary remained a virgin all of her life and Jesus' other kinsmen were His step-brothers (and step-sisters) from St. Joseph's first marriage and His cousins (see the document "Did Jesus have Brothers and Sisters?").
Question: Was Jesus rejecting His family relationship
with Mary and His kinsmen? See Lk 1:38; Jn 2:1-11; Acts 1:13-14.
Answer: No, He was expanding the definition of His family with the invitation that all who became His disciples also became His cherished family members. He was defining family by the covenant bond of obedience to God the Father. Mary is the model disciple, submitting herself to the will of God for her life and supporting Jesus in His ministry by petitioning Him in His first public sign. His mother and kinsmen became part of Jesus' New Covenant family community.
Chapter 13 ~ Discourse # 3: The Kingdom Parables
Announce this to
the house of Jacob, proclaim it in Judah: Pay attention to this, foolish and
senseless people who have eyes and see not, who have ears and hear not.
My people, listen
to my teaching, pay attention to what I say. I will speak to you in parables
(masal), unfold the mysteries of the past.
Chapter 13 signals a turning point in Jesus' ministry "He begins to speak in parables.(2) In this third great discourse in St. Matthew's Gospel, Jesus teaches seven parables. He gives the reason why He is teaching in parables as well as an explanation for two parables that His disciples found difficult to understand.
The Greek word for "parable" is parabole. In the usual sense in Greek literature, a parabole presents a "comparison" to inspire deeper thought. The Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament uses the word parabole to translate the Hebrew word masal. In the Hebrew text of the Old Testament, masal is the designation given to a variety of literary forms including allegories, axioms, proverbs and similitudes (The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 5, "Parable," page 146). In the New Testament, parables are primarily stories that are meant to illustrate a certain truth. Jesus uses parables that are comparisons between the truths of His teachings and the events of everyday life.(3)
Chapter 13 is divided into three sections, after the opening verses that set the scene (13:1-3a):
Notice that like the other discourses, the third discourse on the parables of the Kingdom is summed up with three Last Judgment (eschatological) teachings:
Matthew 13:1-9 ~ The Parable of the Sower
1 On that day, Jesus went out of the house and sat down by the sea. 2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat down, and the whole crowd stood along the shore. 3 And he spoke to them at length in parables, saying: "A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, 6 and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots. 7 Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it. 8 But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirty-fold. 9 Whoever has ears ought to hear."
The location is probably Peter's house in Capernaum. Jesus coming out of the house and sitting by the sea is the signal that He is ready to teach. Such a large crowd assembled that Jesus relocates to one of Peter's boats. The boast is positioned just off the shoreline to give the crowd the best advantage to both see and hear Jesus speak. Like the prophets of old, He begins to teach in parables, using topics of everyday life and making comparisons to make His teaching points that reveal "the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven" (13:11). Jesus will use the word "kingdom" twelve times (Mt 13:11, 19, 24, 31, 33, 38, 41, 43, 44, 45, 47 and 53); it is for this reason that the parables in chapter 13 are called "the seven Kingdom Parables."
His first parable is about sowing seeds in different kinds of soil. Every element in the parable is symbolic.
Question: Who is the in the sower of the seed in the
parable? See 13:37.
Answer: Jesus is the sower. Jesus' teaching plants seeds of faith, like the sower in His parable.
Question: What does the seed represent? See Mk 4:14;
Answer: The seed is the "word of God," the Gospel message of salvation. It is the same message broadcast to every person within the scope of Jesus' teaching.
Question: What do the different soil conditions represent?
Answer: The different kinds of soil represent the different kinds of human response to Jesus' message of salvation in the coming of the Kingdom.
When the sower in Jesus' parable casts his seed, he casts it in every direction into every kind of soil condition. This was a common farming technique in which most, but not all, of the seed was expected produce healthy plants.(4) The technique used up a lot of seed, but the generosity in broadcasting the seed assured the area was well covered and that many plants would spring up resulting in a fruitful harvest.
Question: How is this method of sowing seed similar
to Jesus' teaching?
Answer: Jesus "broadcasts" God's message of salvation in every direction "to the receptive faithful, to those wishing to be entertained by a Galilean rabbi who performs miracles, to skeptics, and to those who are hostile to His message. His focus is the harvest of souls.
The more difficult part of the parable concerns the comparison in the four different kinds of soil where the seed falls. In Scripture the number four represents the world. Later, Jesus will explain the meaning of the parable in verses 18-23. One of the keys to understanding the parable is that the produced fruit is far beyond a normal yield.
Matthew 13:10-17 ~ Why Jesus Speaks in Parables
10 "The disciples approached him and said, "Why do you speak to them in parables?" 11 He said to them in reply, "Because knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted. 12 To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.' 14 Isaiah's prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says: You shall indeed hear but not understand, you shall indeed look but never see. 15 Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, least they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and be converted and I heal them.' 16 But blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear. 18 Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it."
Question: Why has knowledge of the Kingdom been
granted to the disciples but not to others?
Answer: God has granted knowledge to the disciples because their receptive hearts have made them open to accepting the revealed mystery. And it is because of their response to the gift of God's grace that they will receive more understanding. But to those who have listened with a closed and critical heart, He will take away even what little they have heard in that they will fail to understand the significance of what Jesus taught.
Jesus says a little proverb in verse 13 explaining why He now speaks in parables, and then, quoting from Isaiah 6:9-10, Jesus makes another fulfillment statement. Since the crowds have rejected His message, He speaks in parables so they will not readily understand in fulfillment of the judgment prophecy in Isaiah against an unrepentant people (see the harsher statement in Mk 4:12).
Question: What is the contrast with the disciples?
Answer: They have heard with their ears, seen with their eyes, and understood with their hearts. They have been converted and healed spiritually by Jesus the Messiah in preparation for the coming of the Kingdom.
Matthew 13:18-23 ~ The Parable of the Sower Explained
18 "Hear then the parable of the sower. 19 The seed sown on the path is the one who hears the word of the kingdom without understanding it, and the evil one comes and steals away what was sown in his heart. 20 The seed sown on rocky ground is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy. 21 But he has no root and lasts only for a time. When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, he immediately falls away. 22 The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word, but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit. 23 But the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirty-fold." (emphasis added)
St. Luke explains that the disciples, failing to grasp the full meaning of the parable of the sower, asked the Master to explain: Then his disciples asked him what the meaning of this parable might be. He answered, "Knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of God has been granted to you; but to the rest, they are made known through parables so that they may look but not see, and hear but not understand' (Lk 8:9-10).
Jesus reveals the symbolic meaning of the four different kinds of soil that receive the seed/Gospel of salvation.
|1. Seed sown on the path||This person hears the word of the kingdom without making any effort to understand and embrace the truth. Since he has failed to understand, Satan is able to separate him from the truth and from his place in the Kingdom.|
|2. Seed sown on rocky ground||This person receives the word of God with joy, but he has not applied the word to his life; he has no internal stability ("roots"). In a time of hardship, he abandons his faith in God.|
|3. Seed sown among the thorns||This person hears the word but does not love God above all else; the secular world pulls him away from faith and he bears no good fruit/works.|
|4. Seed sown on rich soil||This person hears the word, understands it, and applies it to his "heart"/life and bears the fruit/works of faith in abundance.|
Question: How would you sum up what Jesus describes
as those who hear the word of God but fail to fully embrace the Kingdom? To
what does Jesus attribute the three reasons for their failure? List the
Answer: Jesus attributes the failure of some to produce the good fruit of repentance and conversion to:
Question: How many times does Jesus use "the word" in
this passage? Why? What is Jesus referring to as "the word"? See 13:19 and the
document "The Significance of Numbers in Scripture."
Answer: Jesus uses the "the word" six times in this passage. In the symbolic meaning of numbers in Scripture, six is the number of man, created on the sixth day. "The word" refers to the Gospel message of salvation that will be manifested in Jesus' Kingdom.
The use of the phrase the word of the kingdom in verse 19 is a technical term Jesus uses for the Gospel message of salvation and prepares us for subsequent references to "the word" found in verses 20, 21, 22 (twice), and 23.
Matthew 13:23 ~ But the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirty-fold.
Those who accept the "word" are known by the "fruit" deeds/works they bear. Although some bear more than others, in each case their fruitful lives in the service of the Kingdom far exceeds what might be expected. It is common to expect a very good crop might yield about ten-fold "the yields Jesus expects are far above what is average or even above average.
Matthew 13:24-30 ~ The Parable of the Weeds among the
24 He proposed another parable to them. "The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off. 26 When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well. 27 The slaves of the householder came to him and said, Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where have the weeds come from?' 28 He answered, An enemy has done this.' His slaves said to him, Do you want us to go and pull them up?' 29 He replied, No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, "First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn."'"
After Jesus has dismissed the crowds, the disciples will ask Jesus to explain this parable (verse 36). We will look at the meaning of the parable in verses 36-43, but for now it is sufficient to understand that like the Parable of the Sower, the sower of the wheat is Jesus, the wheat represents the children of the Kingdom of God, the weeds are the sinners sown by Satan, and the field is the world. The Greek word translated as "weeds" is darnel, a poisonous weed that, early in its growing cycle, resembles wheat. The only use for the darnel was to bundle the plants and burn it for fuel (see 13:30). It is a good metaphor for the unrepentant sinner who can masquerade as one of the righteous.
Question: Why does the owner of the field, the
"householder," tell his slaves to let the wheat (children of God) and the weeds
(those who reject Jesus as Lord and Savior) grow together? How does the
owner's answer apply to the human harvest of souls? See CCC 827, 1036-37
Answer: The owner does not want to take the chance that uprooting the weeds will destroy any of the wheat that might accidently be pulled up. God in His mercy gives sinners every chance to repent their sins and turn back to a fruitful relationship with Him. He will not visit judgment upon the sinner until the last breath the sinner takes in this life.
The Church teaches that in everyone, even in the community of the faithful, the "weeds of sin will still be mixed with the good wheat of the Gospel until the end of time" -- like the servants of the owner of the field, the Church gathers to herself sinners already caught up in Christ's salvation but still making their way on the journey to holiness (CCC 827).
Question: Who are the slaves of the master who are
commanded to let the weeds grow with the wheat in the master's field?
Answer: Some scholars suggest they are the disciples of Jesus, but it is more likely, since Jesus is the "householder," that the slaves of His house are the ministerial priesthood who must welcome the sinner and the saint into the household of Christ that is His Church.
Question: According to the parable, what will happen
to the "weeds" (unrepentant sinners) at the final harvest? What will happen to
the "wheat" (the children of God)? In Scripture "harvest" is a common metaphor
for the time of God's judgment (see Jer 51:33; Hos 6:11).
Answer: The "wheat" (children of God) are destined for eternal life in heaven and the "weeds" (children of Satan who reject the Christ) are destined for eternal destruction.
The last three parables are grouped together.
Matthew 13:31-32 ~ The Parable of the Mustard Seed
31 He proposed another parable to them. "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. 32 It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.'"
Jesus uses hyperbole in describing the mustard seed as the smallest of seeds and its plant in full growth as the largest of plants/trees (a mustard tree could only grow as high as 8-12 feet). The contrast here is between the small beginnings of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ and its future expansion to encompass the whole earth, sheltering all who come to dwell in the household of Jesus that is the Church. The allusion to the kingdom becoming so large that "birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches" is a reference to the dream of King Nebuchadnezzar in which he saw a huge tree that sheltered "birds of the sky" and other animals (Dan 4:7). Daniel interpreted the tree and the animals to represent Nebuchadnezzar's kingdom and the many different peoples over whom he ruled. The comparison is that the Kingdom of Jesus Christ will be even greater than the Kingdom of the Babylonians (also see Dan 9:17-19)
Matthew 13:33 ~ The Parable of the Yeast
33 He spoke to them another parable. "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened." (emphsis added).
Yeast is a fermenting agent that, when mixed with flour into a dough, causes the dough to rise and expand. In Scripture leaven/yeast is usually a negative image often representing sin (Ex 12:15, 19; 13:7; Mt 16:6; 1 Cor 5:6-8) but not in this parable. Three is always a significant number in Scripture, symbolizing perfection, completeness, and an important event in salvation history. Three measures of wheat flour is a huge amount of flour and could produce enough bread to feed over a hundred people (Jeremias, Parables of Jesus, page 147). This parable, like the Parable of the Mustard Seed, illustrates the same point "the amazing growth of the Kingdom.
Matthew 13:34-35 ~ The Use of Parables
34 All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables. He spoke to them only in parables, 35 to fulfill what had been said through the prophet: "I will open my mouth in parables [masah], I will announce what has lain hidden from the foundation [of the world]."
The quote is from Psalms 78:2; the Hebrew text uses the word masah which in translated in the Greek as parabole/parable. As in the other "fulfillment" statements, St. Matthew applies the fulfillment of this verse to Jesus' parable teachings. Psalms 78 is attributed to Asaph who is called a prophet in 2 Chronicles 29:30.
Question: What has happened to cause Jesus to stop
teaching directly to the crowds and to begin only teaching in parables (aside
from fulfilling the prophecy of Psalms 78:2)? It is the same reason other Old
Testament prophets began to speak in parables during their ministries.
Answer: What has happened is the opposition of the Pharisees and chief priests "their questioning had turned to outright rejection and hostility. Jesus reacts to the opposition of the religious leadership in the same way that other prophets of God have reacted to the rejection of God's messenger or the failure of the civil and religious authorities to guide the people in righteousness "He begins to speak in parables.
Matthew 13:36-43 ~ The Parable of the Weeds Explained
36 Then, dismissing the crowds, he went into the house. His disciples approached him and said, "Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field." 37 He said in reply, "He who sows good seed is the Son of Man, 38 the field is the world, the good seed the children of the kingdom. The weeds are the children 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 Just as weeds are collected and burned [up] with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man, will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all who cause others to sin and all evildoers. 42 They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears ought to hear."
Question: What are the two themes of this parable?
Answer: The themes of this parable are both the patience of the Lord in waiting for sinners to repent and the inevitability of a final judgment.
As in the Parable of the Sower, when His disciples do not understand, he patiently explains His teaching. Jesus tells His disciples that the "field" is the world and the harvest is the judgment at the end of the age. There are five different people or kinds of people mentioned in the parable "six if you count the slaves in the first telling of the parable. Jesus identifies five different groups/persons:
|1. The sower of the seed||He who sows good seed is the Son of Man|
|2. The good seed/wheat||the good seed the children of the kingdom|
|3. The darnel/weeds||The weeds are the children of the evil one|
|4. The sower of the weeds||and the enemy who sows them is the devil|
|5. The harvesters||and the harvesters are angels|
It appears that the slaves and the harvesters are not the same group since the master tells the slaves in 13:30 that He will tell the harvesters to first collect the weeds.
Notice the contrast between "the children of the kingdom" and the "children of the evil one." Once again, Jesus teaches that there is no middle ground. If one is not a child of the kingdom of Jesus Christ, he has chosen to be a child of Satan.
These last three parables are a unit tied together by Jesus in His statement in verses 49-50. The focus of the last three parables is the Last Judgment at the end of the Age of Man at the close of the Messianic Era. This discourse is ending in the same way the other discourses end, in an eschatological teaching.
Matthew 13:44 ~ The Parable of the Hidden Treasure
44 "The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field."
Matthew 13:45-46 ~ The Parable of the Pearl without Price
45 "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. 46 When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it."
Question: How are Jesus' disciples like the merchant
who found the pearl?
Answer: When they discovered the Messiah who had come to announce the Kingdom, they left everything worldly behind to follow Christ and possess the Kingdom.
Question: How are the parables in verse 44-46 alike?
Answer: Both parables focus on the value of the Kingdom and the joy of those who discover the treasure of eternal life.
Both the laborer who found the treasure in the field and the merchant who discovered valuable pearl had the wisdom to understand what they had found and the determination to give up everything worldly to keep it.
Question: The Old Testament Scriptures imparted
wisdom (see Prov 2:1-4 and Is 33:6), but what new form of wisdom does Jesus offer?
Answer: The Gospel of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ imparts a new form of wisdom in the revelation of God the Son and His gift of eternal life.
Matthew 13:47-48 ~ The Parable of the Sorting of the Good
and Bad Fish
47 "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind. 48 When it is full they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good into buckets. What is bad they thrown away."
Matthew 13:49-50 ~ Jesus' Summary statement for the last
49 "Thus it will be at the end of the age. The angels will go out and separate the wicked from the righteous 50 and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth."
Like the other discourses, the Kingdom Parables come to an end with the subject of the Last Judgment at the end of the age. The angels, who were the "harvesters" in the parable of the weeds among the wheat, will separate the wicked from the righteous.
Question: Compare the last three parables to the
condition of the righteous versus the wicked.
Answer: The righteous are the ones who treat the kingdom like a precious treasure worth more than anything earthly life can offer. They are the "good" fish who are separated from the "bad" fish, and they are destined for eternal glory. The wicked treat the kingdom as through it has no value for them. They are like the "bad" fish who, in the choices they have made, are destined for eternal damnation.
The place of eternal damnation is describes as the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth. Jesus used the same expression, "wailing and grinding of teeth," to describe the unfaithful Old Covenant people being expelled from the kingdom in 8:12: but the children of the kingdom will be driven out into the outer darkness, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth..
Matthew 13:51-52 ~ Jesus Concludes His Discourse
51 "Do you understand all these things?" They answered, "Yes." 52 And he replied, "Then every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old." When Jesus finished these parables, he went away from there.
The theme of this passage is understanding Jesus' teachings. He asks His disciples if they have understood His parables. It is not only a question for them but a question for all generations of those who call themselves His disciples. Their affirmative answer is significant because they are identified as the "seed that fell on good soil" and "understanding" is what Jesus' said the crowds and the Pharisees lacked (13:13-15).
Jesus uses the example of two kinds of men in describing the way His disciples should work to understand the mysteries of the kingdom. The scribes were the theologians of Jesus' time who were trained to interpret the Law and to understand the other volumes of Sacred Scripture written by the Holy Spirit inspired writers of what we call the Old Testament. Ben Sirach describes a true scribe as one who treasures the discourses of famous men, and goes to the heart of involved sayings; he studies obscure parables, and is busied with the hidden meanings of the sages ... He will show the wisdom of what he had learned and glory in the law of the LORD's covenant (Sir 39:2-3, 8). Jesus teaches that the scribe is like the head of a household. Like the scribe who draws his knowledge from the books of Sacred Scripture, the head of the household has items in his storeroom that he has amassed over time and which he uses when needed. Some scholars count this passage as an 8th parable.
Question: How are the scribe and the householder
Answer: They both make use of what is old and what is new. To correctly interpret the Sacred Scriptures, the scribe must be knowledgeable about all of Sacred Scripture from the oldest texts of the Pentateuch to the newer texts. The wise householder makes use everything in his storeroom "older items/foodstuffs and newer produce/products.
Question: In this passage Jesus instructs His
disciples on how they must study His teachings in order to receive the fullness
of understanding. How does He tell them they must approach His teachings like
the scribe and the head of a household? Also see Mt 5:17; 13:11.
Answer: They must bring forth from the "storehouse" of God's word both the old and the new. The Old Testament readings must be studied in the light of the revelation of Jesus Christ and His word that reveals "knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven" if the disciples want to understand how He is fulfilling the Law and the prophets.
This teaching has always been the foundation of Catholic Biblical studies, as expressed by St. Augustine: For the New [Testament] is hidden in the Old [Testament] and the Old is unveiled in the New (Quaestiones in Heptateuchum, 2.73).
Jesus' third discourse "the Kingdom Parables "ends with a similar formula statement used in the conclusion of the other discourses, using the verb teleo, "to finish."
Questions for group discussion:
Question: Are you more like the laborer digging in the field that accidently discovers the treasures of the kingdom in 13:44 or are you more like the merchant that deliberately searches and finds the treasure of the Gospel of salvation?
Question: Summarize the teachings of Kingdom Parables in Matthew 13. Which of Jesus' parables resonates with you most deeply?
Question: Jesus said, "I tell you, on the day of judgment people will render an account for every careless word they speak. 37 By your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned." Does Jesus' warning in Mt 12:36-37 give you a new perspective on the consequences of speech? Will this teaching bring about a change in your speech? What changes will you make and why?
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2012 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.
Catechism references for this lesson (*indicates that Scripture is either quoted or paraphrased in the citation)
627*, 635*, 994
129, 1094, 1117*