This is the close of the parable sermon. And I’ve got a little bone to pick with how these are typically preached. They are typically preached as law. Now the law is good. Seeing Christ as the treasure encourages a fine piety, and piety is a good thing. But it is also something that ultimately fails. No, the person doing the action in the parables is almost always Jesus. Who is the treasure? Who is the pearl of great price? It is you. Christ sold everything he had to redeem you. The rest of the sermon teases out some of the implication.
Oops, I had some problems uploading this and I never came back to finish it after I solved them.
This is the middle sermon of three on Jesus’ parable discourse. It cover mainly the Wheat and the Weeds, although I think the mustard seed and the leaven are important for rounding out the understanding. If the Sower addresses why the Kingdom seems to be failing, or at least encountering heavy opposition, then these address how we are to respond to it. And at this point there are two audiences: a) the disciples and b) the crowds who are on the fence.
Both audiences are encouraged to patience. Don’t take rash action. But each a different type of patience. The disciples to not become “zealots” reaching for a sword. The crowds to watch the leaven/mustard work/grow.
Parables are strange little things. Everyone loves a good parable. If there is a part of the bible that remains common knowledge it is probably some of the parables, like the Sower and the Soils. But what makes them strange is that while the crowds might remember them, they don’t really hear them. If you are hearing the parables alone, it is because your ears aren’t working. The understanding, the explanation, only comes by faith. And that understanding is often at great odds with the surface friendliness.
In the case of the Sower and the soils, them point is not really to identify soils which is what we so often do. The point is to recognize the overwhelming grace of the sower. And to understand that you are good soil. You who have heard and accepted the Word, you are good soil and will be made fruitful. Because the Word of God does what it intends.
The text is the conclusion of the parable sermon. It encompasses three parables, the treasure in the field, the pearl of great price and the net. In this preaching I’m, resting almost exclusively on work done by Dr. Jeff Gibbs. Parables are interesting in how we treat them, in that they are often simply free floating stories. And we tend to interpret them divorced from the speaker or the context. But the parable sermon didn’t come from nowhere. It came from the building opposition to the advent of the kingdom in Jesus. It came from the anxieties of the John the Baptist, Jesus’ family and even the disciples themselves. The standard gloss on these parables I compare to a pep rally (remember those?). Pep rallies can be fun, but they don’t really change anything. As often as not, those pep rallies can turn into something cruel just a few hours later. If these are a discipleship pep rally, I’ve got to sell everything and commit to Christ, there is a way that it it true, but the second you go out of the house failure is waiting around the corner.
Instead of a pep rally, these parables are a promise. You are God’s precious treasure. Christ sold everything to buy you through the Incarnation and the cross. Yes, he sticks us back in the ground and goes to complete it, but even that conforms to the parables of the kingdom – the yeast hidden in the dough, the wheat and the weeds together. They are not statements of discipleship cheer. They are statements that actually change things. God has bought you. The only choices left are to believe it or shun it.
Worship Note: I left in our opening hymn: LSB 573, Lord, ‘Tis Not that I Did Choose Thee. I think it captures the real purpose of the text. It also has for my money one of the most affecting hymn tunes – O DU LIEBE MEINER LIEBE. It is the same tune used for Jesus, Refuge of the Weary – Savonarola’s great hymn. It has that “heartsong” effect of a steady beat going up and down with the occasional extended beat. The meter is listed as 87 87 D. What that means is that each measure of a stanza has 8 syllables followed by 7 syllables, 8 followed by 7, and then doubled. When I look at the other hymn tunes following the same meter, I find a list of many of the most beloved, but I’d bet that when they are played people walk out singing the tune, but not exactly remembering the text of the hymn. Hymns that hit the heart carried by the music.
Parables and the purpose of the parables have in the last couple of generations of interpreters have had two dramatically different purposes. In the hippy era, the parables were these nice earthy stories that allowed the interpreter to say whatever odd but nice things popped into their heads. Think Godspell, parable edition. Almost as a reaction to that, some interpreters latched on the evangelists’ quotes of Isaiah on the purpose of the parables. Parables were not meant to be understood except by disciples. Parables became an exercise not in creation homey communication, but in esoteric teaching. Both of these, at least in my reading, are horrible over-shoots. (I think the hippy version itself was a reaction to an overly stiff German “there is no allegory, there is only one meaning” parable dogma.) Part of what this sermon does is attempt to avoid both inviting the listener to imagine how the parables could have been a natural development from the actual ministry of Jesus.
I lean quite heavily on Jeff Gibbs for this, but I think he nails it. The parables themselves are preached to the crowds, and they are invitations to not turn away. Yes, this Reign of God doesn’t look like what is expected – a messy field, small, scandalous – but this is God working. In this they are a statement of the now. The sermon comes in two part though. Jesus moves into the house, and his explanations are to the disciples. To those who are following however haltingly, the emphasis isn’t so much on the now. They know the now. Jesus’s emphasis is on the not yet, the eschatological promise.
Worship note: with two “seed” type parables in a row, you really burn through those hymns. One of them, which we sang today is a little tricky. Not a surprise because LSB 654 (Your Kingdom, O God, Is My Glorious Treasure) is a hymn from 2003. Modern hymns so often have tunes or metrical phrasing that is just harder for congregations. So, I didn’t include that one, but instead left in our closing hymn, which is a classic. LSB 921, On What Has Now Been Sown.
This sermon attempts to tie together the study of the parables in Matthew 13. The parable of the sower (two weeks ago) serves as the key to understanding. It brings up the problem – the kingdom of Heaven meets opposition – and answers why – our great enemies of the devil, the world and our flesh. The middle three parables (last week) point out what the Kingdom of Heaven will look like from Jesus to the end of the age as it engages those three. Compared to our expectations, this is often troublesome as the wheat and weeds forms the paradigm. The trouble is not wished away but we struggle against it. These things might look insurmountable. But that is the where the final three parables, today’s text enter. A man finds a treasure and sells all he has so that he might have it. That man is the Son of Man, Jesus, and the treasure is His peculiar treasure – you. Christ has defeated our great enemies and will surely deliver us.
We continue this week with the parables in Matthew 13. The parable of the sower with its focus on individuals soils is more applicable on a personal level. The parable of the weeds and with it the parable of the leaven care less about individual reception of the gospel but are aimed more toward the various situations that the people of God might find themselves. The leaven is hid in the midst of a very large amount of flour. The wheat and the weeds grow together. The people of God find themselves in a wide variety of fields in the world.
The title points toward Peter Leithart’s taxonomy of the kingdoms of this world: guardians, babels and beasts. The sermon attempts two things: 1) a warning to the people of God used to a guardian what it means to live in babel and 2) a refocus on the core hope – the resurrection – that unites the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom might look small and weak, but that is how God has chosen to act, and the reign of heaven even small instills hope.
The parable of the sower is one of those pieces of the biblical story that live apart from its context, but compared to something like The Good Samaritan which carries its meaning as a stand alone set piece, the context of the sower is important. Ripped out of the real life of a real Jesus, likewise ripped out of the real life of the real church, the sower leads us to the hidden god. It is only as a parable that explains the fact of the real Kingdom of God which is present in Jesus Christ and his body the church that the sower yields the gospel. The sower functions first as an explanation of why the Kingdom seems so often to be defeated. God has chosen in this age to work like seed through the Word, and the word requires ears.
But in with that primary thrust of explanation there are a couple of moral lessons worth pondering: fruitfulness vs. unfruitfulness and the things that lead to unfruitfulness, and recognition of differentiation of fruitfulness.
The sermon ends with a look at the implied eschatological meaning, all growing seasons end in a harvest.