Matthew 13:1-43

Gospel Readings:

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Matthew 13:10-17
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Devotion 1

Wait: Take time to sit in silence together, allowing space for God’s voice to be heard.

Read: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Straight after Jesus’ encounter with his family and “fictive kinship”—having made the point that the communities embodying God’s reign are centred around doing the will of God—he begins a series of parables. The first of these parables depicts some all too familiar realities for the peasant farmers of Galilee. These realities, however, were not simply the struggles of contending with the created world. They were struggles which were, for the most part, brought on by the current power arrangements:

The largest part of the best agricultural land was owned by Romans, Herod Antipas, the veterans of Herod the Great’s armies, the Herodians, and the temple elite. The peasantry, on the other hand, who still owned land in most cases, had to be content with a shortage of good cultivatable land, minimal land size, thorns and roads at the edge of small fields, and rocky patches because of shortage of plowland.1

Jesus’ story, then, would have been heard as a true to life tale of the struggle for subsistence amidst natural and imperial pressures and the inevitable loss of crop which would result. In his proclamation and enactment of God’s reign, Jesus had been calling people to a movement of communities practicing generous reciprocity and peaceful resistance to the ways of exploitation and domination. It was a practice which would be called into question by the voices of the dominant culture, seeking to convince the disciples that it was just an illusion. It was a practice which would certainly bring trouble and persecution from those benefitting from current power arrangements as communities of Jesus-followers unveiled the injustices holding up such arrangements. And it was a practice which would take precedence over the “cares of the world” and the constant lulling of comfort and accumulation.

Yet, for those who did cast their allegiance on the Jesus movement, whether in rural Galilee or the urban setting of Matthew’s community some fifty years later, the practice of generous sharing, radical inclusion, and care for those most vulnerable would open the possibility of an abundant harvest for everyone.

Reflect:

  • Imagine that you are a part of Matthew’s struggling community. What do you think would stand out to you in hearing this parable?
  • In what ways have you experienced the the realities spoken of in this story?
  • Are there ways in which you sense God inviting you to live out God’s reign more deeply through this story?

Pray for one another

Share Communion 

Close with the Lord’s Prayer

1. Ernest van Eck, The Parables of Jesus the Galilean: Stories of a Social Prophet (Eugene: Cascade, 2016), 57.

Devotion 2

Wait: Take time to sit in silence together, aware of God’s presence in a broken world.

Read: Matthew 13:10-17

Long before Matthew’s day, the prophet Isaiah spoke to the economic injustices of Judah’s eighth century leaders, confronting their exploitation and greed: “Woe to you who join house to house, who add field to field, until there is room for no one but you, and you are left to live alone in the midst of the land!” In the context of this prophetic critique of injustice, Isaiah 6 recounts Isaiah’s “call narrative”—a visionary encounter in which the prophet is entrusted with a message to bring to the people. The message begins by announcing, essentially, the prophet’s failure:

“Go and say to this people:

‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend;

keep looking, but do not understand.’

The people won’t hear his message because their eyes are shut and their ears are stopped—they cannot see or hear. Isaiah spoke to a people, the leaders of Judah, whose investment in systemic exploitation of the people blinded them to the realities of the daily struggle for survival—realities easily seen by those on the underside.

Where you stand determines what you see.

As it was in Isaiah’s day, so in Matthew’s. Those who benefitted from exploitative systems couldn’t hear the liberative message of Jesus, and couldn’t understand the alternative practice of those who sought to live out God’s reign. The stories that Jesus told were, to them, nonsensical.

But those on the underside who heard Jesus’ stories and lived them out seemed to understand  intuitively. For them, the earthy wisdom which came from a life of struggle opened them up to the richness of Jesus’ praxis. Ironically, Matthew’s Jesus expresses this here with a saying taken from the world of economics: “ For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” In the usual economic sense of this saying, the wealthy use their wealth to exploit the poor and make more wealth for themselves. It is an economic system which elsewhere in Matthew’s Gospel is called mammon, and later will be held up for as an example of systemic injustice. But here, the irony is that it is those on the underside who have and will be given more. Not more wealth for their own gain, though. As they live out the way of Jesus they will press into deeper understanding of what it is to live out God’s reign, they will find more life in openness to others, more of the joy of deep community, more of the abundance of sharing with others. It is a reality which can only be seen from below.

Reflect:

  • What do you think Matthew’s community might have heard in today’s reading?
  • Where have you seen today’s reading enacted in your world?
  • What encouragement or warning do you hear in this reading?

Pray for one another

Share Communion

Close with the Lord’s Prayer

 

Devotion 3

Wait: Take time to sit in the silence of repentance together, aware of our inadequacy and God’s grace.

Read: Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Jesus here tells another parable. In this story, a theme introduced earlier by John the Baptist is recalled: “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Mt 3:12).

We need to distinguish, in reading this parable, between what Matthew is trying to say—the “main point” of the parable—and the cultural assumptions which the parable carries. For example, does that parable, with its depiction of a householder and his slaves, permit the use of slavery? While we can’t tell how the slaves in this story were treated by the master, they must have represented landless peasants. Nevertheless, it seems the parable depicts these kinds of social relationships without passing moral judgment.

Equally as serious is the violence depicted at the end of the parable’s interpretation: “and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (13:42). Again, these are probably common images of judgment which are perhaps assumed here by Matthew, rather than being his main point. One wonders whether Matthew had anticipated the historical violence which such texts have contributed to legitimising, he may have made his point differently. David Neville writes,

To anticipate that ultimately God will resort to vengeance on those who oppose the divine will is equally likely, if not more likely, to authorize violent attitudes and conduct as atonement theories predicated on the necessity of divinely willed violence, especially when coupled with the conviction that one (or one’s group) is on God’s side and knows God’s will.2

A third assumption which we might see in the parable is the dualistic view of good people and evil people. In Matthew’s world, this way of seeing people as entirely good or entirely evil was characteristic of imperial propaganda which demonised enemies in order to legitimate violence against them—a foundation stone of the “myth of redemptive violence”. Elsewhere, Matthew’s Jesus calls his disciples to see things differently. We all have logs in our own eyes (Mt 7:1-5), and this must always be our starting point for dealing with the problem of evil.

The point of the parable, then, is that good and evil will be revealed. While good and evil are now somewhat obscured—especially when it seems that the evil are all too often on top of power relations and the acquisition of wealth—they will eventually be shown for what they are. Moreover, it will be God, not human beings—even (in fact, especially!) human beings who consider themselves servants of God—who will make this judgment.

For Matthew and his community, battered and under constant pressure from those on top, this is not a threat, but good news. The encouragement is to persevere, even to persist in loving their enemies, trusting that God will, in God’s time, put things right. This is not a call to passivity accepting violent and unjust treatment at the hands of the powerful. It is a call to resist nonviolently and humbly, seeing that all people, good and evil, are somehow intertwined and that those we thought to be weeds might actually turn out to be wheat. It is a call to humility, trusting that God will reveal. In the meantime, we must humbly live out the way of Jesus.

Reflect:

  • What strikes you in today’s reading?
  • What do you think Matthew’s community might have heard as the main point of the parable?
  • In what ways do you sense God inviting you to live out this passage?

Pray 

Share Communion

Close with the Lord’s Prayer

2. David J. Neville, A Peaceable Hope: Contesting Violent Eschatology in New Testament Narratives (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2013), Kindle loc. 215.

Devotion 4

Wait: Take time to sit in the silence of gratitude together, giving thanks for the ways you’ve experienced God’s loving kindness.

This week’s Common Value: Generosity

Read: Philippians 4:10-20

Ask: How might we practice the express God’s generosity this week?

Pray

Share Communion

Close with the Lord’s Prayer