We consider three more parables this week. We’ll follow the same principles of interpretation we did when we reflected on last week’s parable of the sower. In these three parables Jesus announces the theme. “The kingdom of God may be likened to…”
So we’re thinking about the kingdom, Jesus’ primary teaching. In the one and only prayer that he taught his disciples Jesus prayed, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The kingdom he speaks of isn’t a place; it’s a state of being that’s in perfect harmony with the will of God. The kingdom that Jesus speaks of is already present in the world, but it’s still incomplete. It’s a work in progress. Keep this in mind as we focus the three images of the kingdom Jesus used in the Gospel passage today. .
“The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat.” Here we have the image of the incomplete kingdom. The parable introduces a hostile element into this kingdom scenario. The householder’s enemy has made an attempt to destroy the wheat crop; he secretly sowed weeds among the wheat.
This image of treachery suggests that the kingdom will not bring the world into harmony with God’s will all that easily. Because the household was asleep, the enemy was able to do his destructive work. Peter, in his second letter, cautioned his flock about this. “Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (2 Peter 5:8)
The wheat field has been compromised by the presence of the weeds. The servants suggest going out and pulling up all the weeds so that the wheat can grow uninhibited. But the householder is wise. Pulling up the weeds will also uproot the wheat. “Let them grow together until harvest; then I will tell the harvesters, ‘First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barns.’”
Once again, this week, the Gospel passage ends with a commentary on the parable. It’s an interpretation that found its way into the Gospel. It’s not the only interpretation possible. Take the time to sit with the images for a while. Come up with your own interpretation. Who is the householder? Who are the slaves? Who is the enemy? What does the wheat mean for you? What do the weeds mean for you? Why are the weeds allowed to grow along with the wheat? In light of this parable, what is your personal understanding of the “kingdom of heaven?”
The second parable we all know by heart. “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and planted in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when it is 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.”
Don’t let the simplicity of this parable tempt you to brush over its interpretation. Spend time with this image of the “smallest of all the seeds.” Hiding in this little seed is “the largest of all the plants.” The plant becomes so large that the birds will build their nests among its branches. I again invite you to personalize the parable. What does it mean for you, very personally? Try to open your heart to the parable. Don’t think about it too much. Try to feel its message. What is the message it’s speaking to your heart?
The third parable is also a familiar one. “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat until the whole batch was leavened.” Could a teaching be any more simple? How could this short sentence contain Jesus’ central teaching, the kingdom of God? I’ll leave that for you to discover. I just want to note two things that might be useful to know.
Wheat is common for us. However, in Jesus’ day it was quite special. It was difficult to grow in the arid climate, and so was expensive. Barley, on the other hand, was hardy and easy to grow. It could withstand very dry weather. The poor would bake with barley flour because it was inexpensive.
Yeast is a product we buy at the supermarket. It comes dried in packets or in organic cubes. In Jesus’ day yeast was made by mixing water and flour. The mixture was kept in a dark place for several days until it began to spoil. Then some of the mixture was removed and more water added to the original liquid. After a period of time it would begin to bubble. This would be used to leaven flour. Leaven was considered a product of death because the mixture had to spoil. For this reason unleavened bread was used for the Passover. There was to be no element of death present is that celebration of renewed life.
Think about wheat. Think about leaven. Go back and ponder the parable. Remember to move the process from your head to your heart.
Jesus ended this series of parables with an invitation. “Whoever has ears to hear ought to hear.”