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Monday, July 7, 2008

Pentecost IX -- July 13, 2008

Lexegete™ | Year A | Matthew

July 13, 2008 (Lectionary 15)

Complementary Series:

Isaiah 55:10-13
Psalm 65:[1-8] 9-13 (11)
Romans 8:1-11
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Semicontinuous Series:

Genesis 25:19-34
Psalm 119:105-112 (105)
Romans 8:1-11
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

1a. CONTEXT - Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

The two parables in Propers 10 & 11 (and their corresponding Interpretations) make up a kind of unity within the teaching of Jesus as a whole. Whether or not one
puts brackets around the interpretation (as does the Lutheran Book of
Worship), the effect is much the same. The first is a seaside teaching
about the word of the kingdom, the second a variation on it in which the
metaphor shifts from the word as seed to the seed as the offspring of the
kingdom. Clear and simple and familiar as anything, these are what you
might call the "garden variety" Gospels for the Pentecost Season.

Since both Gospels fit together so closely, LEXEGETE has chosen to treat
them as one. In fact, the preacher (see STRATEGY below) may even
consider doing the same thing by preaching a sermon in two "halves" rather
than trying to cover similar ground (or roto-till the same garden) twice in
two weekends.

A few very basic points are in order. First of all, there is little danger
today of the exaggerated allegorical interpretation of parables that was
once the norm--or at least, we should hope so. If anything, the tendency
today is toward a "soft" approach to parabolic teaching in which one
parable (yours, mine, ours) is as good as any other, maybe even as good as
those of Jesus. This has the virtue of bringing the parables down to earth,
while it tends to dilute the uniqueness and especially the eschatological
dimension which almost always lurks in the background of The Parables.

The important thing is not to "modernize Jesus" in order to be heard, to
borrow a term from Henry Joel Cadbury (THE PERIL OF MODERNIZING JESUS).
Rather, we must attempt to hear the Parable, both in terms of what it
"means" and what it "meant," to borrow the late Krister Stendahl's useful distinction. ("Biblical Theology: A Program").

Secondly, the kind of "twist" ending or reversal theme which is evident in
some parables (e.g., the Prodigal Son, the Good Samaritan) is not visible
in these two parables. The intent of the Parables is more blunt than this.

In fact, these parables are rather straightforward and almost can be
understood without the help of the Interpretation passages. This is
partly due to Matthew's own agenda in the presentation of the parables.

After all, he differs from the other Evangelists in that he speaks of the
kingdom of "the heavens" as a Jewish substitute for "of God." More
important, he distinguishes the Kingdom of the Son of Man (i.e., the church)
and the Kingdom of the Father. This distinction traces itself back to the
dawning of apocalyptic and probably the 7th chapter of the Book of Daniel,
in which the "saints of the Most High " symbolize Israel.

Third, and most important, we must humbly admit that it is quite possible
for us to blithely misinterpret even the most "obvious" of parables, for
that is the nature of the genre. At best we can, through careful exegesis,
strive for a clearer understanding than would be possible without study.

On the other hand, we must also admit that often the Church has explained
the parables away so that they are often as obscure now as Jesus perhaps
intended. We may sometimes murder the parables in order to dissect
them, stilling the very quivering life we seek. And sometimes...sometimes
they speak boldy and beautifully--in spite of our attempts to understand!

1b. TEXT: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

ESV Bible:

The Parable of the Sower

13:1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2 And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, 6 but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 He who has ears, [1] let him hear.”

The Parable of the Sower Explained

18 “Hear then the parable of the sower: 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. [2] 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 23 As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

[1] 13:9 Some manuscripts add here and in verse 43 to hear
[2] 13:21 Or stumbles
[3] 13:25 Probably darnel, a wheat-like weed
[4] 13:27 Greek bondservants; also verse 28
[5] 13:35 Some manuscripts Isaiah the prophet


1εν τη ημερα εκεινη εξελθων ο ιησους της οικιας εκαθητο παρα την θαλασσαν: 2και συνηχθησαν προς αυτον οχλοι πολλοι, ωστε αυτον εις πλοιον εμβαντα καθησθαι, και πας ο οχλος επι τον αιγιαλον ειστηκει. 3και ελαλησεν αυτοις πολλα εν παραβολαις λεγων, ιδου εξηλθεν ο σπειρων του σπειρειν. 4και εν τω σπειρειν αυτον α μεν επεσεν παρα την οδον, και ελθοντα τα πετεινα κατεφαγεν αυτα. 5αλλα δε επεσεν επι τα πετρωδη οπου ουκ ειχεν γην πολλην, και ευθεως εξανετειλεν δια το μη εχειν βαθος γης. 6ηλιου δε ανατειλαντος εκαυματισθη και δια το μη εχειν ριζαν εξηρανθη. 7αλλα δε επεσεν επι τας ακανθας, και ανεβησαν αι ακανθαι και επνιξαν αυτα. 8αλλα δε επεσεν επι την γην την καλην και εδιδου καρπον, ο μεν εκατον, ο δε εξηκοντα, ο δε τριακοντα. 9ο εχων ωτα ακουετω.
. . .

18υμεις ουν ακουσατε την παραβολην του σπειραντος. 19παντος ακουοντος τον λογον της βασιλειας και μη συνιεντος, ερχεται ο πονηρος και αρπαζει το εσπαρμενον εν τη καρδια αυτου: ουτος εστιν ο παρα την οδον σπαρεις. 20ο δε επι τα πετρωδη σπαρεις, ουτος εστιν ο τον λογον ακουων και ευθυς μετα χαρας λαμβανων αυτον: 21ουκ εχει δε ριζαν εν εαυτω αλλα προσκαιρος εστιν, γενομενης δε θλιψεως η διωγμου δια τον λογον ευθυς σκανδαλιζεται. 22ο δε εις τας ακανθας σπαρεις, ουτος εστιν ο τον λογον ακουων και η μεριμνα του αιωνος και η απατη του πλουτου συμπνιγει τον λογον, και ακαρπος γινεται. 23ο δε επι την καλην γην σπαρεις, ουτος εστιν ο τον λογον ακουων και συνιεις, ος δη καρποφορει και ποιει ο μεν εκατον, ο δε εξηκοντα, ο δε τριακοντα.

Novum Testamentum Graece, Nestle-Aland 26th edition
© 1979, Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, Stuttgart;

The Greek New Testament, 3rd edition
© 1975, United Bible Societies, London

2. ANALYSIS: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Robert Farrar Capon's THE PARABLES OF THE KINGDOM (Grand Rapids, MI:
Zondervan Books, 1985) is without question one of the most refreshing and
original books I have every read on the subject of gospel parables. This is
not so surprising, considering the source. After all, Father Capon, an
Episcopal priest from Long Island, NY, has long been known for his highly
original approach to the gospel. He has, among other things, written
articles on cooking for the NEW YORK TIMES and his published works

Capon views the parables as the best lens we could have through which
to examine Jesus' self-understanding about the mystery of his kingdom.
But in order to appropriate them for ourselves, we must let go of some of
our own misguided assumptions, even as Jesus challenged his hearers to
do. Capon's language is colorful and down-to-earth, and he seems to convey
just the kind of flavor that is implied in the parables themselves. For
instance, he notes that "

From Jesus' point of view, the sooner their misguided minds had the props knocked out from under them, the better. After all their yammer about how God should or shouldn't run his own operation, getting them just to stand there with their eyes popped and their mouths shut would be a giant step forward" (pp. 14-15).

A fundamental key to understanding these parables, Capon argues,
is the concept of "left-handed power" governed by the right hemisphere of
the brain. It is this kind of paradoxical power which is the real essence of
the parables and which helps us to understand the kingdom. To quote

Just as, in the whole of the Bible, it takes a while before God's
preference for paradoxical rather than straight-line power manifests
itself--just as God seems to do a lot of right-handed pushing and shoving

before he does the left-handed but ultimately saving thing on the cross--

so too it seems that, for quite some time, Jesus puts himself forth in the
Gospels as a plausible, intervening, advice-giving, miracle-working
Messiah before he finally reveals himself as a dying, rising and
disappearing one" (p. 24).

Thus the proclamation of the kingdom in the Parable of the Sower
(Matthew 13:1-9; cf. Mark 1-9 and Luke 8:4-8) is itself a paradox, and a
paradox yoked with another paradox in which Jesus quotes Isaiah 6:9-10
to explain why the parables are so unclear (Matt. 13:14-15). Is the purpose
here to separate the disciples from the others? Capon points out that this
is something of a false distinction, since the disciples are not much more
enlightened than anyone else where the kingdom is concerned. And here
lies the true paradox: the "explanation" in verses 18-23 actually makes
this parable of the kingdom that much harder for us (and Jesus' audience)
to absorb! Capon argues very convincingly that our characteristic mistake
is to assume that Jesus is the Sower. On the contrary, he points out, "...the Sower is God the Father, not Jesus. What Jesus turns out to be--since he is the Word--is the seed sown" (p. 69).

Once one accepts this premise (and it seems acceptably in line with
the Nicene Creed and the Logos Hymn of John 1), the parable becomes an
almost dizzying revelation to the hearer. The "interpretation" is therefore
as important as the parable itself, because "in these passages, Jesus has
kicked the whole mystery of the kingdom so far upstairs that many
Christians, for most of the church's history, have missed the point
completely and chosen instead to busy themselves with downright
contradictions of it" (pp. 69-70).

Even as the definition of the Sower becomes crucial to understanding
the meaning of that parable, likewise the meaning of "seed" (Gk., sperma)

is central to the parable of the Weeds (Matt. 13:24-30). Capon notes that,
of forty occurrences of the word in the New Testament, only four refer

specifically to the "seed" as the thing planted (two here and two in the
parable of the Mustard Seed).

According to this view, the interpretation is helpful in showing that the
seed stands for the progeny of the kingdom. And the interesting difference
that Capon notes in this parable is that now at the seed is not in danger
from birds, rocks, thorns or scorching heat). The key word in the passage,
is therefore the "enemy," who is the source of the invading weeds. The
farmer, in typical left-handed fashion opts not to retaliate at this point,
but chooses to "let both grow" (aphete). Then comes a Capon-esque

"To simply pause over this statement, however, is not
enough; it calls for a full-scale application of the brakes--a compelte
parking of the theological car in order to take in an incredibly rich
landscape" (p. 105).

Once again with vivid originality, Capon shows how the use of aphete
here is connected very directly with the notion of forgiveness in the Greek
liturgy. But the point is not that God (the farmer) is somehow impotent or
unable to respond to evil, nor is it that "permissiveness" is identical
forgiveness (albeit they are closely connected). Nor is it even the point
found in the last part of the last verse (Matthew 13:30), that the weeds'
destiny is to be burned in the fire--much as we may enjoy poetic justice.

According to parable, this is foremost a parable about forgiveness and in
that sense it discloses the meaning of the kingdom more fully than we may
have realized in the past.

These are only two examples from the twelve chapters of PARABLES OF
THE KINGDOM of the compelling, thought-provoking style of author Robert
Farrar Capon. The book is brimming with joy and enthusiasm (transl.
"en-theos-ism") about the Good News! Fr. Capon promises to continue
seminarians and anyone willing to discover that theology can be fun
should watch for this wonderful new series from Zondervan Books!

3. STRATEGY: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

The preceding review of PARABLES OF THE KINGDOM sketched out two
main interpretive tools for preaching these two parables. First, one ought
to at least consider the notion that in the first parable the seed sown
represents the incarnate word, Jesus, with the God the Father as the
sower. Second, it follows that there is a definite shifting of gears in the
second parable in that now the seed is the "children of the kingdom," i.e.
what grows up from the seed.

As mentioned in the CONTEXT section, it would be possible to preach on
these two texts as if a single message in two parts, perhaps viewing them
as two sides of a coin.

The traditional emphasis in the preaching of the Parable of the Sower
seemed to come down to the verse 9: "Those who have ears, let them hear"
(AILL). But this sounds strangely superfluous, does it not? For a preacher
to exhort her listeners to listen to her is, quite frankly, a waste of EVERY-
BODY'S time! If the Word is truly spoken and faith is present, the
"acoustical event" of preaching will transpire. If not, it won't.

But the focus of these parables is not so much on preaching or worship as
it is on the lives people live in the kingdom of God. Moralizing is dangerous
indeed, and yet if any verse in this passage has a contemporary ring, it is
that "the cares of the world and the delight in riches choke the word, and
it proves unfruitful" (AILL, vs. 22). Amen! the panoply of distractions
from the authentic hearing of the Word is so overwhelming today that one
can hardly begin to enumerate. Take the VCR, for example. This simple
technological device has the power to bring wonderful experiences into the
homes of millions of otherwise lonely or bored individuals. In fact, it may
be doing that, but is it also bringing with it untold demoralization of the
minds of millions of others? Judging by the quality of what is rented in
the average "video shack," one would wonder. Is the concerned parent (or
pastor or teacher or just person) powerless to do anything but "let both
grow until the harvest"? Perhaps so, but perhaps it is not so simple as
that. An extended, two-part sermon might afford the preacher adequate
time to prepare and present some present-day applications and
implications of these two brief parables. Possible themes: "Seeds or
Weeds?".... " Sowing and Mowing " .... "The Field is the World"


Capon, Robert Farrar. THE PARABLES OF THE KINGDOM. Grand Rapids, MI:
Zondervan Books, 1985.

Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984.

Stanley, David M., S.J. and Raymond E. Brown. "Aspects of New Testament
Thought: The Parables of Jesus," (ch. 78:131-145). THE JEROME BIBLICAL
COMMENTARY, ed. R.E. Brown, J.A. Fitzmyer, S.J., and R.E. Murphy,O.Carm.
Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1968.








Exegete: David A. Buehler, PhD, Editor of Lexegete™



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