June 10 lesson: Parables of God’s Just Kingdom
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Parables of God’s Just Kingdom
Summer Quarter: Justice in the New Testament
Unit 3: God Is Just and Merciful
Sunday School lesson for the week of June 10, 2018
By Rev. Earnestine W. Campbell
Scripture Lesson: Matthew 13:24-33 (NIV)
Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn't you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ ‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ ‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’” He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”
Purpose: To understand God’s redemptive justice and how we can enable others to experience it.
Key Verse: Let both grow side by side until the harvest. And at harvest time I’ll say to the harvesters, “First gather the weeds and tie them together in bundles to be burned. But bring the wheat into my barn.” (Matthew 13:30)
The Adult Bible Studies Summer 2018 Series’ writer begins this lesson with three of Jesus’ parables and reminds us that the context of the parables is used to help in understanding, interpreting, and applying the Bible’s texts.
What is a parable?
The writer begins by helping us to understand the meaning of a Parable by introducing the term “literary form” found throughout the biblical text. These forms have various structures and shapes that provide a biblical witness in different styles, i.e., “forms” such as a sermon, psalm, genealogy, proverb, list, allegory, speech, prayer, and song; thus, a parable is one of these many forms. Conveying, as well, that Jesus is not the only person in the Bible that told parables. To this point, the example of the parable told by Nathan to David about the “one small ewe lamb” in 2 Samuel 12:2-7 was used to expose David’s unethical behavior concerning Bathsheba and her husband Uriah, the Hittite. As for the definition, a parable means to “throw beside” or “to compare,” and for further understanding the writer uses the late New Testament scholar C. H. Dodd’s definition: “a metaphor or simile drawn from nature or common life, arresting the hearer by its vividness or strangeness, and leaving the mind in sufficient doubt about its precise application to tease it into active thought.”
Ask: In the reflection of the meaning and use of a parable, have they used a parable for revelation or have they experienced one used for them to make a point?
Parables in context of Matthew 13
Before we engage in the Bible lesson, the writer provides us with the lesson’s context, Matthew 13, where Jesus is teaching large crowds by the lake (13:1) about the parable of the soils (the parable of the sower). The writer notes that it appears that at some point the large crowds had departed because Jesus is answering a question from his disciples as to why he uses parables (commenting that the disciples felt comfortable to question Jesus). Jesus responds to them, and proceeds in teaching concerning the “kingdom of heaven,” about who could and who could not hear these words, and then interprets the parable of the soils (vv. 18-23). This brings us to the Bible lesson.
The Parable of the Weeds
The writer says the parable of the weeds is also known as the parable of the wheat and tares, defining a tare as a destructive weed that resembles wheat in its early stage. As Jesus often did, he sets the parable in an agricultural context and, again, engages in the “kingdom of heaven” symbolism, likening it as someone going out to grow wheat. The writer observes the planter of the good seed as possibly a wealthy “farmer” and is conceivably the “hero” of the parable. The story tells us something bad happened after the “good” seed was planted while everybody was asleep because an enemy comes along and plants weeds/seeds among the good wheat seed. As for who this enemy was, the writer expresses that in a parable the identity of the person is open to interpretation and, therefore, suggests maybe the enemy is the “allegorical Satan/devil-like character of the Adversary, as in Job; or a jealous neighbor?” However, what we do know for sure is the good seed and the bad seed grew together because the servants noticed it and asked the landowner what to do about it. The landowner explains that an enemy did the “evil planting” and instructs the servants to gather them together at harvest time with distinction (vv. 28 – 30), meaning it will all be sorted out then.
Ask: Where do they see symbolically good seeds planted that have been invaded by the bad seeds? What is the impact?
Interpretation of the weeds
The writer interprets the meaning of the parable as two possible main things:
- The first interpretation is the parable could be speaking to the church’s composition because the church consists of “good seed,” as well as some occasional “bad seed.” The writer makes the analogy that the “good seed” in the church are the people that are obedient to God and abide by biblical instructions. To this point, the text from Micah 6:8, “to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God” is used as an example. Contrarily, the “bad seed” could describe people who are intentionally harmful to others by “gossip, backbiting, competition, anger, or other kinds of selfish and hurtful behavior” as well as those subtler acts such as “believer’s indifference, neglect, or habit of breaking promises.”
- The second interpretation is the parable is addressing the important biblical principle: eschatology, defined as the “doctrinal content of the last things – a set of doctrines that remind us that at some point in the world’s history, all will come to an end.” The writer explores Matthew 13:30, “Let both grow side by side until the harvest,” and explains this as symbolism to be patient for God’s time to sort out the situation for God’s time will be the best time. The word Harvest is explained as a word that typically suggests to eschatology or the “consummation of human history,” and relates it to the “patience” in waiting on God to finish the divine work in the world (“eschatological patience”). This perspective is undergirded with Paul’s letter to the church at Thessalonica, see 1 Thessalonians 5:1-2.
The parable of the weeds demonstrates for us that there is both good and bad in the church and world, but we must trust that God is in control.
Concluding text, two short parables
The author reengages the theme of the kingdom of heaven in the Parable of the Mustard Seed and relates it to a mystery because the small mustard seed grows to something big just as the kingdom of heaven grows greatly. The lesson’s writer says Jesus often uses this style of “persuasive speaking” as an argument from the “lesser to the greater.” And further expounds on the parable analogy and Jesus’ persuasive speaking by explaining to us that the mustard seed being the smallest can grow to 20 feet tall; again, this analogy is used in likeness to portray the Kingdom’s mysterious growth (vv. 31-32). It is a mystery because it is often difficult for us as human beings to wrap our minds around something so small growing so big. Our small thinking and lack of belief often limit the possibilities of God’s work in the church, the world, and in our lives. However, if we only have the faith of a small mustard seed, how much better would the church and society be!
In the Parable of the Yeast, the writer conveys that a “little yeast can leaven a whole batch of dough,” making the analogy that the mixture of believers and those not yet believers of the kingdom of heaven can lead to the conversion of those. However, human beings are not the agent of the leaven, but it is God’s work through our faithfulness to Jesus’ words and teachings that allows God to act through us. The parable of the yeast is similar to the parable of the good seed because its aims to show the conversion story, a change of heart, for non-believers.
Takeaways from the lesson
The writer wants us to remember that these three parables ultimately teach us about 1) patience, Parable of the Seed 2) Living with mystery, Parable of the Mustard Seed 3) Being a part of the solution and not the problem, Parable of the Yeast. Let us commit to Jesus’ teachings through prayer, deeds, and acts.
God, thank you for your patience and steadfast love for us as we as believers continue to strive to obey your words and teachings. Let us seek to allow you to work through us so that we may be used as change agents for the Kingdom of heaven. Amen.
Rev. Earnestine W. Campbell serves as the Associate Director for Connectional Ministries. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The “Adult Bible Studies, Series Summer 2018, Justice in the New Testament” is used for the content of this lesson.