Thursday, November 18, 2010

Matthew 13:1–23

Matthew 13:1–23 (ESV): The Parable of the Sower


In these passages (I’ve again combined a few ESV section headings into one post, since they go together), Jesus begins by telling the parable of the sower. I won’t summarize or quote it here; read it in verses 1–9 (ESV).

Later on, the disciples approach Jesus to ask him why he speaks to the crowd in parables. To be frank, Jesus’ answer to them very much surprised me, for a long time:

And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” (verses 11–13 (ESV))
He then quotes Isaiah:

“Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:

“‘You will indeed hear but never understand,
  and you will indeed see but never perceive.
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
  and with their ears they can barely hear,
  and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
  and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
  and turn, and I would heal them.’”

(verses 14–15 (ESV))

This is taken from Isaiah 6:9–10 (ESV) (but see below).

Jesus has been talking about the crowds, but he turns his attention back to the disciples, and tells them that despite what he’s been saying about the crowds, the disciples are blessed, because their eyes do see, and their ears do hear. In fact, “many prophets and righteous people” longed to see and hear what the disciples are able to see and hear, but weren’t able to (verse 17 (ESV)).

Finally, having gone through why he speaks to the crowd in parables, he then explains the parable of the sower in verses 18–23 (ESV), but again I won’t bother to describe it because I can’t possible add to what Jesus said anyway—when the Saviour takes the time to explain something, we’re usually better off just listening.


There are a few things in Jesus’ brief sentences about the disciples understanding him but the crowds not understanding him that surprised me for a long time:
  • Jesus tells the disciples that “it has been given” to them to know the secrets of heaven, but to the crowds it has not been given. Wait… wasn’t part of Jesus’ mission on earth to explain things to people? Why isn’t he trying to be as clear as possible? Or, conversely, why is he telling them anything, if it hasn’t been “given to them” to understand?
  • He says that to the one who has more will be given, and the one who doesn’t have, even what he does have will be taken away. That just sounded… wrong, to my ears. I would have expected Jesus to say that the one who doesn’t have needs to have it, and he could ignore the ones who have, for a bit, until everyone gets evened up.
  • He says that he speaks to the people in parables because they see but don’t see, and hear but don’t hear. Again, my reaction was, “but then shouldn’t you speak clearly, so that they can see and hear?”
These weren’t questions I put a lot of thought into, but they would be there in the back of my mind, as I read the passage. But part of my problem with this passage is that I just didn’t understand salvation properly, or, more specifically, Grace. My salvation is a gift from God, not something I earned—it was “given to me,” whereas it hasn’t been given to others. Jesus says that to the one who has more will be given, so what if I put myself in that category? I “have”—I’ve been saved. Day by day I grow in my knowledge and faith of God, all due to His benevolence; I am being given more. And some day I’ll die and go to be with Him, and will have immeasurably more than I even have now. When one puts this in the context of Grace, the passage makes a lot more sense.

Jesus “quotes” Isaiah in this passage, but let’s take a closer look at the actual passage from Isaiah that he is quoting:

And he said, “Go, and say to this people:

“‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’

Make the heart of this people dull,
  and their ears heavy,
  and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
  and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
  and turn and be healed.”

(Isaiah 6:9–10 (ESV))

This is, of course, the LORD speaking to the prophet Isaiah.

The reason I find this interesting is that Jesus doesn’t directly quote the Isaiah passage; in the Isaiah passage, the LORD commands that the people’s hearts be made dull, and their ears heavy, etc., whereas in the Matthew passage, Jesus says that the people’s hearts will indeed be made dull, and they will indeed have ears that never hear, etc. Jesus is speaking to people who already know Isaiah’s prophecy; he doesn’t have to quote it to them. His point is that these people are the fulfillment of that prophecy—the people that the LORD was speaking about, to Isaiah, are the people that Jesus is speaking to. (It used to bug me when Jesus would cite an Old Testament passage, but not quote it exactly the same as it appears in the Old Testament, however, there is the issue of translation (Old Testament being written in ancient Hebrew, New Testament being written in Greek, and the translations of the Old Testament that would have been common in Jesus’ day would probably have been in Greek, although I might be wrong on that), but also, Jesus is the Word. He wrote the Old Testament. So… he, more than anyone else who ever lived, knows what he’s doing when he cites Old Testament Scriptures.

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