Gather ’round, children.
These stories aren’t super pleasant. But then again, we sing about Jack and Jill falling down a hill and one of the most vicious plagues in world history, and we read about an old woman in a shoe and another guy that sticks his wife inside of a pumpkin.
The difference is that these are a matter of life and death for yourself. None of these are meant to be light, and none of them are to be reduced to mindless sing-song. So pay attention.
It’s disputed whether Matthew’s gospel is entirely chronological or if this section is a summation of several parables to consolidate and organize his account. Either way, it’s a lot of stories in a row.
I’ve already addressed the parable of the sower in the form of a narrative, so I’m skipping that one. What do the rest of these stories mean? Well, take a look.
Parable of the weeds
An enemy landowner disperses seed and screws over his neighbor’s crops while they sleep. The workers notice and suggest pulling the weeds, but the owner says doing that will destroy the harvest. Instead, they should wait until the wheat is ready.
Jesus takes the time to explain this one. What I find alarming is that the weeds are growing right alongside the wheat, almost as if they’re a part of the whole thing.
Also, the “enemy” comes in secret — again, nobody realizes that an enemy had anything to do with it.
Parable of the mustard seed
Although a mustard seed is tiny, it produces a huge tree.
A lot of people like to relate this to the supernatural growth of God’s church with seemingly low resources. Chuck Missler has a different interpretation, which I tend to agree with: the tree is bigger than its natural growth, so much so that birds are perched in its branches.
I don’t see much room for birds in this regular mustard “tre”. The “unnatural growth” could be an allusion to the excessive growth of church as an institution today (see your local megachurch). Indeed, the gospel is widespread, praise God, but how many disciples of Christ do you see today?
About the birds: Matthew makes a reference to birds in the parable of the sower only a handful of verses previous. They ate the seeds.
Parable of the yeast
A woman makes some bread using yeast. It grows.
In Jewish culture, yeast is not kosher. Both Jesus and the listeners surely know this. Again, we’re talking about an unnatural growth. I could see this as having to do with the non-Jews in Acts, but it could also indicate that people get into stuff they shouldn’t, and it grows to a size never intended.
Parable of the hidden treasure
A guy finds a treasure somewhere. He gets pretty amped and sells everything he has, then buys the field.
The guy sees more value in the treasure than the stuff he owns and the field itself. It’s pretty clear that the treasure is the gospel of Jesus Christ straight up. Do you find the same value in it? Would you give everything away to have it?
Parable of the pearl
Same thing as the previous one, but it’s a pearl this time, and the guy is a merchant.
Maybe the listeners needed a specific treasure as a visual. Maybe it’s because he wanted to get women’s attention. I think it’s just reinforcement — the gospel is valuable, and it’s worth everything you have.
Parable of the net
Fishermen pull in a load of fish, and take the time to meticulously sort out the good and bad fish.
This is pretty similar to the parable of the weeds, but the process is more immediate. The parable also concludes with the final judgment, which seems pretty unpleasant.
Parable of the householder*
This isn’t officially a parable, but it’s structured the same way as the others, so I’m taking some liberty here. An apparently wealthy guy brings out some of his stuff, presumably to sell. Like a garage sale.
Jesus directs this one at the scribes, who haven’t been the most agreeable people thus far throughout Jesus’s ministry. But when they actually pay attention to what Jesus says, they have the desire to sell all they have — both new and old — meaning their old traditions and new experiences are irrelevant in comparison to the gospel.