The Parables of Jesus: Lesson 3

Wheat and WeedsRecap and Intro

Last week we went over The Parable of the Sower.  Jesus explained the parable to His disciples: All the seed sown on three of the four soils eventually died.  However, “what was sown on good soil refers to the one who hears the word, accepts it, and produces a crop” (Matthew 13:23).

By the verb form Jesus used only for the “good soil,” the “imperfect,” revealed was this was multiple hearings.  The soil couldn’t even take credit for accepting the word because accept was in the passive voice.  So, the kingdom of heaven is like a Sower, Jesus, where the soil hears the Word over and again, and God works brings about acceptance of what was heard.

Now Jesus will mix up the metaphors (just a bit).


The Wheat and the Weeds (Tares)

Matthew 13:24-30

Read Matthew 13:24-25

This parable starts with a real scenario from the 1st century.  Roman laws forbade the sabotaging of crops by planting darnel (which means someone must have done this for such a law to be written).

  • What is the parable about? (vs. 24)


  • Who is doing the sowing?


  • Who is the enemy? (for a clue, refer back to vs. 18)


“weeds”: zizanion, darnel.  A weed that resembles wheat as it grows.  A rye grass with noxious seeds, its roots intertwine with the wheat,Wheat and Darnel making removal difficult without damaging the wheat.  When mature, darnel seeds are easy to distinguish from wheat by its gray color.

  • When did “his enemy” sow the weed seed?


  • Sleep is needed. So is this sleep something other than “sleep” or can it be a metaphor for something else?


“sleeping”: In another Parable, “The Faithful Servant,” Jesus said: “If the homeowner had known what time the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let the thief break into his house.”  The danger Jesus teaches to His disciples is that they may be lulled into sleep.  Like the master of a house, they too can become complacent.

  • What does the sown weed represent?


Satan and his cohorts seek to destroy Christ’s Church (Matthew 16:18) by:

  • snatching God’s Word from the hearts of the hearers (Luke 8:12),
  • spreading erroneous doctrines (Matthew 13:25; 1 Timothy 4:1-3),
  • and persecuting the saints (Luke 13:46; 2 Corinthians 12:7).

Read Matthew 13:26-30

  • What are the servants of the master told to do about the darnel? Why?


Jesus Explains the Parable

Read Matthew 13:36-39

  • Who are the characters represented in the parable?


  • What is the “harvest” and what does it represent?


  • Why would Jesus say, “He who has ears let him hear?” Is there a relationship between hearing and the “Son of Man” sowing the “good seed”?


The Mustard Seed

Matthew 13:31-32, Mark 4:30-32, and Luke 13:18-19

The Yeast (Leaven)

Matthew 13:33 and Luke 13:20-21

These two parables form a double parable.  Both are parables of contrast.

Read Matthew 13:31-33

“mustard”: oinapi, famous for its tiny size.  From no other small seed did the fully grown plant attain the size of the mustard plant.  The plant could reach a height of up to 10 or 12 feet.

“three measures of flour”: About 60 pounds, which would bake into enough bread to feed anywhere from about 100 to 160 people.  This was sufficient for a banquet, an image Jesus often used to depict the kingdom (Matthew 22:1-14, 25:1-13).

  • What is the contrast between the beginning (mustard seed, yeast) and the result?


  • What brings about this result? (vs. 31)


Excursus: Turning Negative into Positive


Scripture usually uses yeast as a negative metaphor and something being without yeast as something positive.  When God instituted the Old-Covenant Passover, the Israelites were to eat bread without yeast.  For they were “to eat it hurriedly.  It is the Lord’s Passover” (Exodus 12:11).  The Israelites were commanded to eat yeast-free bread for seven days when they celebrated Passover.  If someone ate any bread with yeast in it, he was to “be cut off from the congregation of Israel” (Exodus 12:19).

Here, Jesus reverses the connotation to symbolize the hidden permeation of the kingdom of heaven in this world, suggesting permeation and transformation.  Despite its small, hidden beginning of yeast working in the dough, the kingdom of heaven will likewise permeate the world.

Giant Trees

In the Old Testament, when we find a huge tree growing from a small seed, it applied to evil kingdoms.  Daniel 4 records Nebuchadnezzar’ dream:

There was a tree in the middle of the earth, and its height was great.  The tree grew large and strong; its top reached to the sky, and it was visible to the ends of the earth….  Wild animals found shelter under it, the birds of the air lived in its branches, and every creature was fed from it. [Daniel 4:10-12]

This tree was cut down, and the animals under it and birds in its branches all fled (Daniel 4:14).  The tree represented King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian kingdom.

Ezekiel speaks similarly about the destruction of Assyria.

Think of Assyria, a cedar in Lebanon … The waters caused it to grow … Therefore, the cedar became greater in height than all the trees of the field….  All the birds of the sky nested in its branches … [Ezekiel 31:3-6]

Ruthless men from other nations cut it down and broke its boughs.  The people left its shade and abandoned it, including the birds and animals (Ezekiel 31:12-13)

The Old Testament does speak positively about a huge tree, as in Ezekiel 17.  However, it does so with God contrasting Babylon with Israel.  The cedar of Babylon will have it roots torn out, its fruit stripped, and its leaves will shrivel (Ezekiel 17:9).  With Israel, God will plant it on a high mountain to become a majestic cedar where birds will nest and shade in its branches (Ezekiel 17:23).

Reserving the usual negative imagery, Jesus reveals a kingdom with spectacular growth, which He will bring about.  For these parables are about “the kingdom of God,” His rule and reign.

Sneaking in a Miracle

Worth noting is Jesus sneaking in a miracle with the mustard seed.  The mustard seed sprouts and grows into a laxanon, a vegetable or garden herb, later becoming a dendron, a tree!  A miracle has occurred—the mustard seed became something it was not otherwise before, a tree.  In Luke 13:19, the seed “becomes a tree” (egeneto eis dendron) without going through the vegetable stage.

To be in the “kingdom of God,” Jesus needs to turn us into what we were not before, where we do not merely grow but become!  Jesus hides a change of identity in the Parable of the Mustard Seed.


Excursus: Jesus’ Use of Matter

A parable takes something we understand (mustard seeds, yeast) to reveal what we don’t (the kingdom of God).  But we still can ask why does Jesus prefer (which we will see over the course of this study) using such earthy, physical comparisons?

Jesus does not divide reality into two realms, the abstract and the concrete.  Instead, He asked, “What is the kingdom of God like?”  Through His comparisons, He makes the spiritual like the physical: A mustard seed that a man sowed in his field and yeast that a woman mixed into the flour.

In Jesus’ incarnation, the divine spiritual and human material became one in Him.  Jesus, likewise, uses the material to join it to the divine: “The kingdom of God is like.”  His parables become a cradle into which He places a spiritual-material message.  In His parables, the two become one.

The earthiness, the materiality of Jesus’ parables to teach about the spiritual nature of the kingdom of heaven, point back to Him.  For He is the manifestation of the kingdom of heaven on earth, the incarnation of God’s rule.  So, His parables and His joining of the divine with the material testify to what He is—and we will become in Him.

As Jesus used the material the reveal the spiritual, he reveals the spiritual is also material—for Him and us.  For we are not disembodied spirits but created in both body and soul.  “The Lord God formed the man out of the dust from the ground [adama] and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man [adam] became a living being” (Genesis 2:7).

The wordplay between adama [soil] and adam [red man, the color of clay] highlights the materialness of who we are.  God then breathed “His breath” (3rd person masculine singular) and the “red [clay] man” (adam) became a “living soul” (nephesh).  God created us as beings of physical matter and divine soul/spirit, though now brought into ruin by sin.

So, we are not souls temporarily imprisoned in a body, which will one day be stripped away as we return to pure spirit.  No, the result of humanity’s fall into sin, death, will be conquered by the resurrection of the body, as Paul declared (1 Corinthians 15: 42-50).  Jesus’ incarnation, His physicality, and His use of the physical affirm this reality.


The Growing Seed

Mark 4:26-29

In Mark’s Gospel, this parable precedes The Parable of the Mustard Seed.

Read Mark 4:26-27

  • What is this parable about? (vs. 26)


  • Who then is the sower?


  • If the sower is the “Son of Man” (Matthew 13:37), why doesn’t the sower know about how the seed sprouts and grows? What point is being made?


Read Mark 4:28

  • Whom or what does the soil represent?


  • What produces by itself?


The earth producing refers to the Christian being the soil in which “the seed sprouts and grows.”  Notice the seed sprouts and grows, not the Christian (soil).

“by itself”: automatos, “automatically,” or more literally, without a visible cause.  The seed grows, in this case, without human effort.  In Acts 12:10 and Joshua 6:5 (LXX), this refers to a divine action, not human.  The soil produces “automatically,” clueless as to why the seed grows to produce “the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.”  For the seed holds the secret of its growth, doing what it does.

Read Mark 4:29

“puts in the sickle”: An allusion to Joel 3:13, “put in the sickle,” referring to the final judgment.

  • What does the harvest represent?


With this parable, Jesus explains that the kingdom of God is a divine work, not a human one.  God brings about its growth, denoted by the soil producing automatically, which means this, at times, can be imperceptible.  St. Paul knew this principle well: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused the growth.  So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters are anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6-7).

Jesus reveals this cluelessness on the Last Day, again by metaphor.  Speaking to the “sheep,” He said:

“For I was hungry, and you gave me food, I was thirsty, and you gave me drink.  I was a stranger, and you welcomed me, I was naked, and you clothed me, I was sick, and you visited me, I was in prison, and you came to me.”

Then the righteous will answer him, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’”

And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” [Matthew 25:35-40]


Link to the next Lesson.


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