LEXEGETE / Year A / Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
JULY 27, 2008
ELEVENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
July 27, 2008 (Lectionary 17)
1 Kings 3:5-12
Psalm 119:129-136 (130)
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
Psalm 105:1-11, 45b (1, 45) or Psalm 128 (1)
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
BCP: Proper 12 - Matthew 13:31-33, 44-49a
LBW: Pentecost 10 - Matthew 13:44-52
NCL: Sunday between July 24 and 30 - Matt. 13:33-52
1. CONTEXT - Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-49a
Someone somewhere knows why two denominational lectionaries (ELCA and ECA) disagree.
Until that person appears we can but speculate. The LBW, for
example, included material peculiar only to Matthew, while the BCP adds
parables found in the other synoptics. Why? The LBW's inclusion of a
"fiery furnace," and its omission by the BCP, might reflect differing
churchly styles, the one more willing to frighten us into the fold than the
other. Or is that merely this writer's imagination?
Whatever the thinking ofthe designers of pericopes, these little
parables do need to be seen as deliberately arranged by the author of
Matthew in order to accomplish a churchly purpose. "The Reign of God,"
according to Theodore H. Robinson, "...as Matthew's rabbinic mind expressed
the idea---necessarily involved a social group," which was the Jewish
church of second half of the first century, and Matthew addresses that
John Reumann described that church as distinguishing between the
kingdom of God the Father, which arrives at the parousia, and the kingdom
of the Son of man, by definition the church itself, "the community of those
who acknowledge Jesus as Lord." As the parable of the net suggests, the
church contains good and bad, and some day God will throw away the bad.
So there is to be a judgment, and people must seek to be righteous.
It is also a missionary church, and the parable of the mustard seed
encourages readers to believe in the possibilities. But, Reumann again, "in
a missionary church some people may gain entrance who do not measure up
to the demands." Matthew wants converts to "match their lives to this
Gospel." The Kingdom is like fishermen throwing out their nets, but the
worthless fish will be thrown away.
Matthew's collection of parables in this thirteenth chapter,
probably selected and arranged quite deliberately, represents his doctrine
of the church. But, writes Reumann, "One should not lament too much the
fact that Matthew and the others have brought new meanings out of Jesus'
words, for to the early Christians these re-applications were also insights
provided by the Holy Spirit and the risen Christ. Indeed, one can claim,
some of these new insights might be just as relevant, or even more so
today, as the original point which was made by Jesus in his lifetime."
"Might not the same standard be applied to the selection of texts in these
latter days? Perhaps Lutherans are more prone to define the church in
terms of the cost of discipleship, Episcopalians in terms of the Kingdom's
1b. Text - Matthew 13:31-33, 44-49a
The Mustard Seed and the Leaven
31 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. 32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”
33 He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”....
The Parable of the Hidden Treasure
44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
The Parable of the Pearl of Great Value
45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.
The Parable of the Net
47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. 48 When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. 49 So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
New and Old Treasures
51 “Have you understood all these things?” They said to him, “Yes.” 52 And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
31allhn parabolhn pareqhken autoiV legwn, omoia estin h basileia twn ouranwn kokkw sinapewV, on labwn anqrwpoV espeiren en tw agrw autou: 32o mikroteron men estin pantwn twn spermatwn, otan de auxhqh meizon twn lacanwn estin kai ginetai dendron, wste elqein ta peteina tou ouranou kai kataskhnoun en toiV kladoiV autou. 33allhn parabolhn elalhsen autoiV: omoia estin h basileia twn ouranwn zumh, hn labousa gunh enekruyen eiV aleurou sata tria ewV ou ezumwqh olon. ....
44omoia estin h basileia twn ouranwn qhsaurw kekrummenw en tw agrw, on eurwn anqrwpoV ekruyen, kai apo thV caraV autou upagei kai pwlei panta osa ecei kai agorazei ton agron ekeinon. 45palin omoia estin h basileia twn ouranwn anqrwpw emporw zhtounti kalouV margaritaV: 46eurwn de ena polutimon margarithn apelqwn pepraken panta osa eicen kai hgorasen auton. 47palin omoia estin h basileia twn ouranwn saghnh blhqeish eiV thn qalassan kai ek pantoV genouV sunagagoush: 48hn ote eplhrwqh anabibasanteV epi ton aigialon kai kaqisanteV sunelexan ta kala eiV aggh, ta de sapra exw ebalon. 49outwV estai en th sunteleia tou aiwnoV: exeleusontai oi aggeloi kai aforiousin touV ponhrouV ek mesou twn dikaiwn 50kai balousin autouV eiV thn kaminon tou puroV: ekei estai o klauqmoV kai o brugmoV twn odontwn. 51sunhkate tauta panta; legousin autw, nai. 52o de eipen autoiV, dia touto paV grammateuV maqhteuqeiV th basileia twn ouranwn omoioV estin anqrwpw oikodespoth ostiV ekballei ek tou qhsaurou autou kaina kai palaia.
Testamentum Graece, Nestle-Aland 26th edition
© 1979, Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, Stuttgart;
The Greek New Testament, 3rd edition
© 1975, United Bible Societies, London
2. ANALYSIS - Matthew 13:31-33, 44-49a
Matthew 13:31-32 - Matthew takes this parable from Mark, though the
latter's conclusion seems somewhat more meaningful, since the birds take
shelter in the shade of this tiny seed become a large plant. Not the largest
of all plants, of course. Rabbis were allowed touches of homiletical
exaggeration. But the kingdom starts small, so small as to be unnoticed by
the world in which it is planted.
13:33 - Some commentators feel that the idea of leaven having its
influence upon the loaf originally was used to describe the pernicious
influence of evil. Thus Paul called for the Corinthians to remove the old
yeast of sin, so that the Passover might be celebrated with the unleavened
bread of purity and truth. Such a working of the yeast, moreover, is
hidden, active within the body of the faithful. The author of Q, Matthew
and Luke's source for this little parable, turns the concept around and
suggests that Christians, hidden within the "loaf" of the world, cause the
kingdom to come by working within the world their excitement and change.
13: 44-46 - These two parables are not found elsewhere in the gospels,
though a corrupted version appears in the Gospel of Thomas. The kingdom
is defined as a possession of some sort, so valuable that those who get
hold of it will go to any length in order to retain it. That kingdom,
moreover, comes to those who have the good fortune to find it unwittingly,
as well as to those who spend their lives searching for it. The point is not
in how it is found but in how it is valued.
13: 47-50 - These two pericopes do not include verses 36-43, with its
explanation of the parables of the weeds, but its consignment of the
worthless weeds to the fire helps to understand Matthew's insertion of a
fiery disposal for worthless fish. Such unwanted components of the catch
would be returned to the sea or used for fertilizer, not burned. But
Matthew wants to strike fear in the hearts of converts, and hell has
always been hot, not wet.
13: 51-52 - Matthew seems here to be justifying his use of material he
believed to be original to Jesus. He has collected some seven parables into
an arrangement that makes them appear to have been delivered at the same
time and in this order, edited a bit and even added some, but he is a
Christian rabbi, a "teacher of the Law who...is like a homeowner who takes
new and old things out of his storage room." The kingdom is not static.
New circumstances require new understandings of the Gospel.
The homiletical temptation with this chapter has always been to
isolate individual parables and use them as springboards to thematic
Thus, appropriately, a plethora of sermons on the power of good
influence, or the importance of setting priorities. Such sermons may need
to be preached, of course, but consider the possibilities for development
related to the thought of Matthew as this chapter was first assembled.
He was, again, a "Christian rabbi" who saw the church as a
gathering of both good and bad. He warned of God's coming judgment, and
insisted that faith in Christ needed to have a good effect...a tree sheltering
the weak, leaven raising the whole of a loaf. That church, moreover, was a
value to be cherished above all others, an interesting idea in this time
when newcomers to a community go church-shopping for the best music or
the most eloquent preaching or the most comprehensive children's
It is always difficult to wrestle with the grace of God and human
response. That there ought be such a response we have no doubt, yet who
is to say who are the worthless fish, and what constitutes worthlessness?
The kingdom is worth the paying of any price, even the sale of all we have.
But hardly anyone will put a house on the market for the kingdom's sake.
What do we sell?
Give the answer and you've missed the point! The Gospel is always
a call to the daily struggle with the implications of our baptism, and these
gospels are no exceptions.
SOME POSSIBLE THEMES
a) "When the kingdom comes"
The kingdom comes every day, by our search for it but also
without our expecting it. When it comes it has its good effect for all of
the others in our lives. That good effect is what makes it worth
everything we have.
b) "The church and the kingdom"
The church is so "human" an institution that we tend to
separate it from the more "spiritual" kingdom of God. But the two are the
same and not the same, and in any case inseparable, so we must value the
church as if it were a treasure beyond price even as we see it as a
collection of good and bad fish!
SOME USEFUL QUOTES
"In our crass chamber-of-commerce philosophies, we ignore
the leading fact that a bigger city does not therefore breed a better people.
Even the church brings forth "movements" which flourish for a day like a
green bay tree and then die, having printer's ink for sap and being stricken
by the blight of statistics."
-George A. Buttrick, THE PARABLES OF JESUS
"The world is equally shocked at hearing Christianity
criticized and seeing it practiced."
-D. Elton Trueblood
"Our Father, since we will be criticized, let it be for doing
too much or too little rather than for doing nothing at all.
"Why should the world come to the church when its own
members do not?"
-James W. Brougher
"The very idea of an isolated Christian, that a person can be a
Christian on his own, is the myth of a degenerate Protestantism; just as
the idea that the Church and the Kingdom are one is the myth of a
-D.R. Davies, SECULAR ILLUSION OR
5. WORSHIP SUGGESSTIONS
Hymns that evoke the mission of the church and the character of the
community of the faithful would be appropriate. Consider "YOUR KINGDOM
COME! O FATHER, HEAR OUR PRAYER" (LBW 376) and "O CHRIST THE HEALER,
WE HAVE COME TO PRAY FOR HEALTH, TO PLEAD FOR FRIENDS" (LBW 360).
The latter suggests the sheltering, nurturing quality of the church, an
important counterpoint to the eschatological harshness that conclues the
Buttrick, George A. THE PARABLES OF JESUS. New York and London: Harper
& Brothers Publishers, 1928.
Major, H.D.A., Manson, T.W., and Wright, C.J. THE MISSION AND MESSAGE OF
JESUS. New York: E.P. Dutton and Co., Inc., 1946.
Reumann, John. JESUS IN THE CHURCH'S GOSPELS. Philadelphia: Fortress,
Robinson, Theodore H. THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW. Garden City, NY:
Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc., 1928
THE INTERPRETER'S ONE VOLUME COMMENTARY ON THE BIBLE, ed. Charles
M. Laymon. New York: Abingdon, 1971.
Exegete: Carl T. Uehling
Rev. Uehling is an ELCA Pastor (Retired) who lives in Brookville, PA.
Among other books, he is the author of Today's Grace, Tomorrow's Hope (1980),
Prime Time: The Middle Years (1970), Hope & Healing (1983),
Prayers for Lay Ministry (1973), Blood/Sweat/Love (1970),
and the worship classic, Prayers for Public Worship (1972).
LEXEGETE (C) 2008