I’ve written before about the power of stories, but Jesus throughout Matthew 13 takes the art to profound ends and also shows something crucial about understanding the Kingdom.
First up the stories. I love how verse 3 of this chapter says you teach by telling stories. Right here should be a dream come true for those who see teaching as something highly formal requiring pens, paper, lesson plans and great literacy and numeracy. The story works just as well and that’s great news. That means teaching can take place in almost any culture through any method. That is why the oral tradition is so rich and powerful because of what can be gleaned from a story.
Yet there is more to it than that. Chiefly that although Jesus taught through stories, the people didn’t learn the lessons. When Jesus talks to His disciples afterwards and informs them of the meaning of the parable of the sower the preamble to that is illuminative of why some people will never understand things of the Kingdom. That is to say it is not the head or intellect that needs to pick things up to understand what the Kingdom, it is a matter of the heart. The reality is that our hearts are not dissimilar to the hearts of those who originally heard these stories. Despite being hungry for change and liberation, it was not hungry for the real rule of God to take charge.
That means we can be told truths of the Kingdom snugly wrapped in a story and we will miss it altogether without Jesus satisfying our need to know the meaning of it – not just for the sake of knowing, but for the sake of applying what we know to our growing relationship with God and embracing the Kingdom rule.
The think about the stories Jesus tells, is that these outline how the Kingdom is, not how it could be unless we choose otherwise. These are all part of the narrative of the inevitable coming of the Kingdom will usher in at various stages of our history. Unless God unblocks the stubborn heart we can hear these stories time after time and not pick up on what is implicitly required in the light of what we find in these Kingdom pointers.
Much could be and has been said about all the parables Jesus shares in this section of His ministry as related by Matthew. The one that sticks out to me at the moment is the parable of the weeds of the field (vs. 24-30 and explained in vs. 36-43). Here’s what I notice – there’s no in between folk, you’re either a son of the Kingdom, or you’re a son of the wicked one. If you are the son of the wicked one it might the case that things go well with you in this lifetime and nothing appears to catch up with the injustices, but Jesus promises at the end of the age a great gathering – a gathering of wheat and a gathering of weeds. Jesus is explicit – the weeds are people, the wheat are people. The end for one is glorious and the end for the other …
What do you do with that information? What does that say about the end-time destiny of humanity? Does that leave room for an arrangement where people get a second chance and we all live happily ever after?
How are we to listen attentively to what Jesus is saying through these stories about the Kingdom? Are there things we are to do? Are there things we are to look out for?
Not all these insights are about answers, they are just as much about the questions we’re left to ask and wonder how we live in the light of these words.
For His Name’s Sake