13 October 2016

Matthew 13:36-43

“Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” (v. 36)

Psalm: Psalm 27


This is interpretation of interpretation. Even where the writer of the Gospel offering an understanding of what a passage means, later commentators find that the explanation may itself be open to more than one reading. That is the case in Matthew's allegorical interpretation of the parable of the weeds in the field (Matthew 13:24-30).

There has been much debate amongst biblical scholars about the difference between a parable and an allegory. One way of understanding it is to see a parable as being a story that has a single point, often a surprising punchline, and has an impact on the hearers. An allegory, by contrast, is a story in which each element represents something. When we looked at the parable of the weeds on Tuesday we saw that its single point is that God (who cannot be prevented in achieving God's purpose) does things in God's own time. Here we are invited to read it as an allegory: the field is the world and the harvest is the end of time; the first sowing is the work of the Son of Man and the second is that of the devil; the crop is the children of the kingdom and the weeds the children of evil.

That still leaves room for interpretation and there are three ways in which this can be read. The first is to see it as an explanation of the problem of evil, as true of the original creation as of the work that Jesus inaugurates in the Gospel. Why are there bad things in the world when surely God created everything and everyone to be good? The answer is that a diabolical enemy spoiled the work.

The second reading suggests that this answers the same question as was asked by the parable of the sower. Why is it (sometimes) such hard work to evangelise? And why are our best efforts sometimes unrewarded? The answer seems to be that there are evil powers working against the mission of the Church.

The third reading sees the parable as a picture of the Church. Why is the Church not perfect? And what should be done about it? As such, this has been read as a warning against those groups that have tried to create a pure Christian community and to suggest that we have to live as an imperfect group of disciples for the present.

None of these readings is easy to understand or to accept. What all three offer is perhaps less of an answer than a reflection on the fact that we live in a world where good and evil coexist and that that is also true of the Church.

To Ponder

  • Many modern Christians find the notion of a personal devil who works against the mission of Jesus unhelpful as it can seem to reduce out own responsibility for our actions. What do you think?
  • Will there ever (this side of eternity) be a perfect church? If there were, would you want to join it? Why?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Jonathan Hustler

Having been a Methodist circuit minister and a theological college tutor, Jonathan is now Ministerial Coordinator for Oversight of Ordained Ministries in the Connexional Team..