“That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.” Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 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. 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.’ But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it. “Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’ ” He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.” All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.” Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. “Have you understood all these things?” They said to him, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.” (Matthew 13:1–58, ESV)
Stories To Explain And Conceal
Picture the scene: Jesus exits the house and goes to the sea. The crowds gather, and Jesus takes his place on the water in a boat. The group standing at the water's edge leans in as Jesus begins to tell stories. These stories are called parables. From the beach, these crowds listen intently as Jesus begins to share stories to explain the kingdom. The stories offer metaphors that confuse some, frustrate others, and bring clarity to those of the kingdom.
Jesus draws from something commonplace to these crowds. Agricultural rhythms and practices were familiar to Jesus' listeners.
A more accurate description of this story would be the parable of the soils because the seed is the same, but each soil yields a different result. Some seed was taken away immediately. Some seed grows instantly, but there is no depth or root. Some plants failed because of riches and worldly concerns. Some seed to root and it grew and produced fruit. The fruit of righteousness is shown over time. Jesus wants his followers to know that opposition is to be expected. Some hear the word and reject it immediately. Others hear it and receive it with great sentiment; but when they are tested by persecution they fall away. Still, others embrace it but are destroyed by worldly cares and pleasures.
Parables are not merely illustrations of Jesus’ teaching, in the way a preacher might tell a story to illuminate a point. They are fundamental elements of his teaching and focus our attention in a particular way onto the theme of the kingdom. Jesus is bringing attention to the reality that there are elements to do with the kingdom of heaven which are mysterious and as the gospel is proclaimed by Jesus, faith and unbelief exist side by side. Jesus' revelation concerning the kingdom is like the sun which melts the ice but also hardens the clay. The words of Jesus open the hearts of some but confirms the rebellion, rejection, and unbelief of others. The parables become doors through which some enter and barriers to others who are shut out by the same door.
Jesus continues with another story about sowing. In this parable, even the good seed is damaged. A covert operation by an enemy leaves the field sown with weeds amidst the wheat. The master knows what has happened in the field and when the servants offer to remove the weeds, the master tells them that they will separate them at harvest time. The explanation is that the children of God and the children of the devil inhabit the world without separation. However, when the end of the world comes, the angels will gather in the harvest and separate those who belong to Christ from those who belong to the enemy. Judgment will be severe, and the suffering is real. The righteous will shine like the sun in the consummated kingdom.
The next stories are more like short correlations. Jesus uses the illustration of sowing seeds in a field to teach something about his kingdom. The parable of the mustard seed shows the power of good sowing. The mustard seed may be the smallest of all seeds and yeast may be indiscernible in the baking amalgam. However, they are more widespread and have more influence than most would ever suspect. These stories fulfill prophecy and left even Jesus' closest companions confused.
The two parables seem to teach that the kingdom of heaven is like the discovery of something wonderful. There are some differences to observe between the two stories. In the first story, the man seems to stumble across the treasure in the field. In the second story, the discovery is no accident is the result of a careful search. Some people find salvation in Jesus Christ when they are not looking for him, while others search diligently. The unifying theme is that the value of the kingdom eclipses the value of everything else. Nothing can be compared with having and possessing, the kingdom of God.
Jesus describes the work of fishermen to separate fish in a net. The fishermen would divide the fish that could be eaten or sold from those that would have to be discarded was a vital part of the process. This story is quite similar to the parable of the weeds. In the end, the angels will separate the evil, and the righteous and this final separation will result in judgment for those outside the kingdom of heaven. Jesus wants to know if his disciples understand what he is teaching, and they confirm that they understand what is being taught about the kingdom.
Jesus finishes and goes to his hometown where one might expect that he would receive a hero's welcome. However, after teaching in the synagogue and leaving the people astonished the welcome is short-lived. Jesus’ teaching is unique, authoritative and no one has ever heard anything like it. His lack of formal training only deepens the mystery for those who hear Jesus teach. They begin to comment about his family and average upbringing while raising questions about everything he does. Jesus’ response was the recognition that it is difficult to minister in one's hometown and because of a lack of faith and honor, he did not do many mighty works.