We read, “Jesus put before them another parable…” Yet another parable… I can imagine some people in Jesus’ crowds holding their heads and saying under their breath, “Oh dear, another parable…” We know from the Gospel record that Jesus’ reception was mixed: some people followed him, some turned away, some turned him in. I wonder if some of Jesus’ mixed reception was because of his steady stream of parables. Parables are not straight talk. Parables take a lot of work because they must be interpreted by the hearer. In the Gospel according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, almost all of Jesus’ teaching is in the form of parables – more than 40 parables – and Jesus’ listeners, then and now, have to ask themselves about each of these parables, “What is this about? What is Jesus’ point?”[i]
The English word “parable” comes from a Greek word which literally means “that which is tossed alongside,” which implies that a parable is a comparison, or an analogy, or an illustration that comes from creation or from occurrences in everyday life. Jesus teaches endlessly by telling parables inspired by very familiar things: a lighted lamp; a sower and soil; wheat and tares; mustard seeds and grains of wheat; fig trees and new wine; sparrows and eagles and mother hens; sheep and shepherds; a wicked judge and a poor widow; an old cloth and a festive garment; a lost coin and a buried treasure; a wedding feast and an impending funeral… On and on they go. Parables were Jesus’ way. Jesus’ parables literally cover a lot of ground. The point of a parable, or, I’ll say, the pinch of a parable, is that what the parable means is not obvious. A parable is rather elusive. It must be personally recognized, and interpreted, and appropriated by the hearers. We are the hearers, and we have to do the work.[ii]
Isaiah 44:6-8; Romans 8:12-25; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
Our gospel lesson for today made me recall what I remember as the very first theological conundrum of my childhood. I was probably 7 or 8 years old, it was summertime, and my Mom had admonished me to go outside and play. I suspect on that particular day I had been a bee in my mother’s bonnet. I walked outside into the front yard barefoot, enjoying the feeling of the warm grass between my toes. That is until I experienced the sensation of sharp pain all over the bottom of my foot. I jerked my foot up quickly as I looked down to discover that I had stepped squarely on a thistle. After I had recovered from the pain, made sure there were no needles stuck in my foot, and surveyed the scene hoping that my parents had not heard the expletive I had shouted (not necessarily in that order), I began to wonder why God made thistles in the first place. What was the purpose or a thistle? Why did God create something to inflict pain on a barefooted kid such as myself?
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
Jesus teaches using stories from everyday life, divine truth revealed in soil and seeds, wheat and weeds, yeast and bread, fish and nets. Today is wheat and weeds. We may not be familiar with wheat, but our own lush summer garden growth includes plenty of weeds.
Jesus tells a story of something that happened so often that there’s record of this crime and its punishment in the civil law of his day: sowing weeds into another’s field. As we hear in the story, the weeds looked particularly like wheat when young. At first, one couldn’t tell the difference. Only later having grown up and starting to produce fruit do the weeds distinguish and appear.