Page 4, 20th July 1984

20th July 1984
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Page 4, 20th July 1984 — Blessed assurance of God's presence
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Blessed assurance of God's presence

Wisdom 12:13.16-19 Romans 8:26-27 Matthew 13:24-43 TODAY we continue with the array of parables presented to us in chapter 13 of St. Matthew's gospel. The first of them, the parable of the Tares and the Wheat, appears in Matthew alone, as, of course, does its explanation, which comes at the end of today's gospel, and so sandwiches the parables of the grain of mustard-seed and the leaven in the dough.

The parable of the Tares makes two points: firstly, God's creation is all good ("the kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field"), and any evil in it is not the responsibility of the Lord of creation.

Secondly, and this is the main point of the parable, the time to root out the weeds is not now, lest some of the good produce be damaged, but at the time of the harvest, and under the direction of the field's owner, when the weeds will be put into bundles and burned.

In Jesus' parables, the harvest normally stands for the end of the world, and so the message to his followers is that they must endure patiently the presence of evil; it is inevitable that it should be there, but all will come right in the end.

Confidence is the keynote of the next two parables also; all is certainly going to come right in the end, but it may mean waiting to the very end.

Jesus presents us with two very striking contrasts here: firstly, he has his audience think of a mustard-seed, which (for our purposes at any rate) is the smallest thing imaginable, and then he asks them to visualise the end-product, bigger than any vegetable, and it has now become a tree that can actually provide shelter for the birds of the air.

The seed was a common Jewish and Christian image for resurrection, one that we meet several times elsewhere in the new testament and contrast between the present state of things and that which will eventually obtain is precisely what Jesus wants his hearers to grasp.

The idea underlying the next parable, that of the leaven in the dough, is the same: the amount of leaven required for three measures of flour is patheticallysmall, and yet it serves to permeate the whole.

In just the same way, God is working quietly and obscurely to build his kingdom, but the unobtrusiveness of it should not blind us to its effectiveness. Something quite different is being born, and it will come about, because it is God who is making it happen.

Next, Matthew reverts to the evidently very puzzling business of Jesus teaching the crowds in parables, and produces a slightly unconvincing quotation, from the Psalms, then underlines the difficulty the early Christians had in grasping the meaning of the parables, by having the disciples ask for an explanation of the tares and the wheat.

The explanation takes the parable a stage further, and there are actually some who think that it misses the point of the parable altogether, since there is no hint here of the idea of waiting patiently until God's decisive intervention.

The interpretation is "allegorical," in that it takes every detail of the story and gives it a meaning, whereas a parable generally just has one or two main points.

This may be so, of course; but it is worth reflecting, nonetheless, on the similarities that exist between our situation, that of Matthew's first readers, and that of the people Jesus addressed: all of us need from time to time a fillip to our confidence, reassuring us that God is still active in our world, and that despite all appearances, the power of good will in the end have the upper hand, and that is the lesson of today's parables.




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