Chapter 13 of Matthew is a unique chapter in that it contains a collection of 7 parables. Jesus begins each of these parables with the words, “The kingdom of heaven is like…”. I’ve mentioned previously that the core message of Jesus ministry, is that “the kingdom of heaven has drawn near“. In this pivotal series of parables Jesus speaks to the crowds and challenges them to make a decision. Are you in? Or out? Even the use of parables is intended to weed out the serious followers from those seeking a sideshow. (13:11-17)
- Parable of the Soils (2-9, 18-23) – Remember Jesus is speaking to the crowds, not his disciples. When the the curious crowds hear this parable, they’re challenged to answer the question, “What type of soil am I?“
- Parable of the Weeds (24-30, 36-43) – According to v38 the field represents the world, not the church. Again, his audience needs to consider, “Am I wheat or weed?” The kingdom of heaven exists in the world, not separate from it. In many ways wheat and weeds look the same. “Which am I?”
- Parable of the Mustard Seed (31-32) – For those expecting the Messiah to arrive with a great army and fireworks, Jesus has some somber news. “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed.” Tiny. It will one day be great, but that’s not how it arrives. “Can you accept this reality?” Will you stick around to be a bird living in the branches of the kingdom?
- Parable of the Yeast (33) – Similar to the Parable of the Mustard Seed. The idea of the kingdom (yeast) working “into all things”, is an interesting one. We can see today how this applies both individually, and globally. But it all began in little ole Galilee 2000 years ago.
- Parable of the Hidden Treasure (44) (see below)
- Parable of the Pearl (45-46) – Jesus makes a clear point in these two brief parables. The kingdom of heaven is worth the price. When you recognize the value of the kingdom, you’ll give up everything for it. The parables contain an implicit question, “Are you ready to be my disciples?” Whether you stumble across the truth of God’s kingdom, or whether you’ve been searching for it, “How much are you willing to give up to enter the kingdom of heaven?“
- Parable of the Net (47-52) – The kingdom of heaven is like a fishing net. We might think that the kingdom of heaven would be 100% pure, but that’s not the case. However, it’s not our job to sort out the fish, or the weeds. That’s a task reserved for the return of Christ. In the meantime, we keep living by kingdom principles, and we keep sharing the Good News. They’re our responsibilities. Determining one’s eternal destiny is Jesus’ job. This parable contains the warning, “How will you be judged at the end of the age?“
Yes, this is a confrontational discourse. This chapter represents a turning point in Jesus ministry. People, it’s decision time. Jesus is no longer a mere curiosity and wonder worker… if he ever was. Jesus is now a walking question mark. His presence and his message challenge us all to make a series of decisions. This cut and dried message may sit uncomfortably with a society that prefers ambiguity and compromise over truth claims and dogmatism. But I can’t change the message. It’s always DECISION TIME.
- Do you agree that “our society prefers ambiguity and compromise…”? How would you demonstrate your answer?
- Is your understanding of the Parable of the Soils changed by considering the audience? Do you agree with my summary?
- The Parable of the Weeds and the Parable of the Net both teach the church not to function as eternal judge. Why do you think so many churches have struggled to limit themselves in this area?