April 8, 2007, Easter Sunday
As you read this chapter of parables, keep in mind that Jesus taught at least 40 parables to the Jews. To the Nephites he taught in plainness. Why the difference? There are several reasons for parables. One is that parables to the spiritually literate are an invitation to investigate and inquire for further truth. Read the parables looking for deeper knowledge than you already have. Here is an opportunity to practice exegesis! Be a scripture sleuth!
Additionally, since this lesson will be given on Easter Sunday, I’ve chosen to focus on the 1st parable in this chapter and then engage with the class in a word study of “fruit” and “firstfruits.” Some of the scriptures I intend to use are 1 Cor. 15:20-26; Duet. 26:2; Gen. 1:11; Matt. 3:8-10; Matt.7:16-17, 21:19; Rev. 22:2,14; 1 Ne. 8:10; Alma 32:42; D&C 84:58, 88:97-98, 97:9. My fig tree is perfectly poised for me to cut off a small branch & take it in as an object lesson! 🙂
v. 1-2: The setting has gone from a house to the sea side. Why? Visualize this setting: A great multitude on the shore with the teacher lecturing from a ship. v. 1 reads, “…went Jesus out of the house…” while v. 36 reads, “…Jesus…went into the house….” Is this contrast meaningful?
v.3: Matthew specifies that Jesus taught in parables instead of simply giving Jesus’ words. Why? Parable of the Sower or Soils: Why does Matthew begin with the parable he chose first and then wait until v. 10-17 to ask and explain why parables were used by Jesus?
v.4: The seed is the word of God, x Mark 4:14. What are the fowls? What is the wayside? Is this a sloppy farmer, or what?
v.5: “Stony places” means shallow dirt on top of solid rock.
v.3-8 Was there a question that instigated this parable? If so, what was it and who asked it? What does this parable mean?
Why are the disciples concerned about parables being used?
v. 9: If we all factually have ears, what does this verse mean? Could this relate to healings of the deaf & blind that Jesus is reknown for? See v. 13 & 15 also.
v.10-11: Note the word “them” here, instead of “us.” Who is getting these parables? According to this exchange, what is another reason for teaching in parables?
v.12: Note JST footnotes here. What is it that is to be received? By whom? What is the consequence of receiving, of not receiving? How does this relate to you personally & as a collective church? Ancient & modern? Can you identify the recipients’ reception by consequences as recorded in history? Ancient & modern? How do we qualify to receive more? How do we teach this to our children & church-wide? What is there in your life you’re desiring to receive?
v.14: Another reason for parables. See Isaiah 6:9-10. Note this NET translation uses the word “caloused” instead of “fat.”
v.15: What does it mean to have our “hearts waxed gross?” Note that conversion comes BEFORE healing. Is this similar to faith BEFORE the miracle? I understand this verse better when I substitute the word “otherwise” for “lest.” If we don’t understand parables, what might be the problem? See v.19.
v.16: The “heart” part is left out here. Why? What significance do 1. Eyes, 2. Ears & 3. Heart have here? Are they symbolically represented elsewhere in the Gospels, other places in the scriptures?
v.17: What was desired of prophets & righteous men?
v.18: The parable of the sower, or soils, is given BECAUSE of what the disciples have received per v. 17. What is it that they’ve received that is the catalyst for this parable?
v.19: Does this verse answer the above question? Is the “word of the kingdom” what past prophets & righteous men have desired? What is the “word of the kingdom?” Does John 1:1 give direction here? Here the heart is central. Does this impact the meaning of v. 16?
v.19-23: The metaphore of planting, seeds, & fruit are at play here. How does linking Lehi’s vision with this parable add more meaning? Can you think of other “fruit” metaphores in the Gospels? How do they interrelate?
v.24: Parable of the Weeds (Wheat & Tares): Why does this 2nd parable also rely on planting metaphores? What is “the kingdom of heaven?” Who is the “man?” What is the “sowing?” What is the “good seed?” What is “his field?”
v.25: Who are the sleeping men? Why are they sleeping? Should they have been sleeping? Who is “his enemy?” The word “tares” here means weeds & is thought to be darnel grass. The Greek term ζιζάνιον (zizanion) refers to an especially undesirable weed that looks like wheat but has poisonous seeds. Is “wheat” symbolic of something, instead of using barley or another grain?
v.26-27: Since the servants can distinguish between the two seedlings, why didn’t they pull the bad seedlings at first? (See vs. 29) In what way do the good people require the bad people to properly ripen?
v.30: When is “harvest time?” Who are the “reapers?” Note the JST footnotes on sequencing of events.
v.31: Parable of the Mustard Seed: Do all these parables apply to “the kingdom of Heaven?” Why give several parables with the same meaning? Once again the planting metaphore. Why?
v.32: The mustard seed is especially tiny. Does it matter that the plant is an herb? Calling the plant a tree is rhetorical hyperbole, since technically a mustard plant is not a tree. This could refer to one of two types of mustard plant popular in Palestine and would be either ten or twenty-five ft (3 or 7.5 m) tall. Since Jesus called it a tree, what could he be implying based on your knowledge of other scriptural references to trees?
In Greek “the birds of the sky” or “the birds of the heaven”; the Greek word οὐρανός (ouranos) may be translated either “sky” or “heaven,” depending on the context. The idiomatic expression “birds of the sky” refers to wild birds as opposed to domesticated fowl.
Why does it matter that birds live in the tree branches? Read the TPJS pg. 96-98 for more information here. Is this the ONLY interpretation possible for this parable? Why or why not?
There is important OT background in the image of the mustard seed that grew and became a tree: Ezek 17:22-24 pictures the reemergence of the Davidic house where people can find calm and shelter. Like the mustard seed, it would start out small but grow to significant size. What do the mustard seed & the cedar tree represent initially? What are the “trees” in v. 24 of Ezek 17? How can we personally apply this scripture?
I find amazing the magnitude of information Jesus can impart in a two-verse parable. The “glancing back” to the OT increases the impact this little story has. How is the application at the 1. time of hearing (ancient) different that the application at the 2. time of Joseph Smith and 3. today?
v.33: Parable of the Yeast: Try substituting “Your family” for “The Kingdom of Heaven” in all of these parables & see what you experience. Now substitute “Your testimony” for “The Kingdom of Heaven.”
Leaven is yeast. What does yeast do? Does this relate to the wheat sown in the previous parable? What significance does leavn have to the Jews? Three measures of meal was a saton, the Greek name for the Hebrew term “seah.” Three of these was a very large quantity of flour, since a saton is a little over 16 pounds (7 kg) of dry measure (or 13.13 liters). So this was over 47 lbs (21 kg) of flour total, enough to feed over a hundred people.
Notice how each parable gets shorter and shorter, yet is teaching basically the same thing.
v.35: Another reason for Jesus speaking parables.
v.36: Why did Jesus send the multitude away yet agree to expound upon the parables to his disciples? Shouldn’t his disciples have been able to understand the parable without Jesus’ explanation? Why do the disciples only want the explanation for the parable of the tares of the field and not the others, too?
v.37-43: Is this the complete and only explanation of this parable? The NIV translates the last line as “The one who has ears had better listen!” The translation “had better listen!” captures the force of the third person imperative more effectively than the traditional “let him hear,” which sounds more like a permissive than an imperative to the modern English reader. This was Jesus’ common expression to listen and heed carefully.
v.44: Parables of Kingdom of Heaven: Who is the audience now? Is the man in v. 44 the same man as in v. 45-46? Who are/is the man? Decode this parable.
v.45: Decode this parable.
v.47-50: Is this the same parable as the wheat & tares?
v.51: Why does Jesus ask if they understood NOW? Why do they answer “yes?”
v.52: Recall elsewhere “new” & “old” are used in the scriptures. This is a reference to the Mosaic Law & the teachings of Jesus, or the new law.