Good morning! Reading this swiftly through Matthew’s gospel is like eating a really great dessert—everything is so rich and so good! It’s hard to slow down and savor each morsel as it goes by, but we get a chance today to do just a bit of that. Matthew 12-13 contains one chapter focused on conflict with the Pharisees, and another focused on parables.
Jesus’ main opposition in Matthew 12 comes from one of the main factions within Judaism at the time, the Pharisees. This contingent of observant Jews were actually probably closer to Jesus’ own orientation than any other group at the time of his public ministry. Pharisees were adamantly committed to upholding Hebrew customs and laws, as a hedge against the corrupting influence of outside (Roman) authorities. They were hardline dogmatists who believed any compromise on strict observance of the law was a slippery slope that led inevitably to collusion with Rome. From the evidence we have in the synoptic gospels, Jesus took the Hebrew scriptures with this same amount of uncompromising seriousness, but he found freedom to challenge cultural understandings and practices that had sprung up through the years around those laws. Hence the controversy between Jesus and the Pharisees over the Sabbath. Pharisees adopted a wooden, legalist interpretation of the prohibition against work on the Sabbath, but Jesus points to one purpose for Sabbath in the first place (providing healthy rest for humanity). Jesus refers to precedence in the Hebrew tradition and declares that thriving humanity is more important than observing the Sabbath in every jot and tittle that culture has ascribed to it. We read again Jesus’ citation of that Hosea verse: “I desire mercy and not sacrifice”. Now we really see the Pharisees beginning to plot destruction, and we’re less than halfway through this gospel.
Maybe it’s in response to increased scrutiny, or maybe it’s the result of an editor’s choice to lump like things together, but in either case Matthew 13 lists a great number of parables—semi-secret teachings on the kingdom of heaven. Parables as a genre can be defined by their use of earthy, everyday imagery to reveal something intangible. This is among Jesus’ favorite ways of teaching, perhaps because the images are accessible to all. They also can cloak or disguise a teaching unless someone has an understanding or interpretation of the parable (which is why we hear the refrain: “Let anyone with ears to hear listen”). One parable that gets extended treatment (and the benefit of explanation) is the parable of the sower, describing different types of people on whom the seed of God’s teaching falls. Note that God is characterized here also, as a sower who casts seed even in unlikely places, with hope that growth will occur there too. Over the course of all these parables, we learn that the kingdom of heaven is sometimes holding good and evil together for a time, is capable of marvelous growth from even the smallest of starts, and is like unparalleled treasure. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Matthew 14-16. Thanks for reading!