This week we are discussing the Parable of the Weeds and its explanation found in Matthew 13:24-30, 34-43. Please read chapters 8 and 10 of Rev. Robert F. Capon’s book Kingdom, Grace, and Judgment – Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus. Fr. Kimel’s teaching on these two chapters is here.
Capon opens his discussion of Jesus’ explanation of the Parable of the Weeds with Matthew’s prefatory quote from Psalm 78:2: I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world (Gk. kosmos). Matthew quotes more of the Hebrew Scriptures than does any other gospel writer, and here he ties Jesus’ use of the parables with this verse from the Psalms. For Mathew, Jesus is not telling his audience something new, but something very ancient that has existed since the time of the creation of the cosmos. Therefore, as Capon writes: The mystery of the kingdom, therefore, has never not been in the world . . . . Because the creative Word is the eternal contemporary of every moment of the world’s existence, the kingdom is catholic in time as well as space. The Word who restores humanity to its status as a kingdom of priests is the same Word who made Adam a priestly king to begin with. p.107
Upon the request of his disciples, Jesus provides an allegorical explanation for the parable:
Then, sending the crowds away, he went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain the parable of the field’s darnel-weeds to us.” And in reply he said, “The one sowing the good seed is the Son of Man; And the field is the cosmos; and the good seed—these are the sons of the Kingdom; and the darnel-weeds are the sons of the wicked one, And the enemy who sowed them is the Slanderer; and the harvest is the consummation of the age, and the reapers are angels. Therefore, just as the darnel-weeds are gathered and consumed by fire, so it will be at the consummation of the age; The Son of Man will send forth his angels, and they will gather up out of his Kingdom all the snares that cause stumbling, as well as the workers of lawlessness, And will throw them into the furnace of fire; there will be weeping and grinding of teeth there. Then the just will shine out like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father. Let him who has ears hear. (Matt 13:36-43).
A Dog Biscuit:
Capon is not impressed with Jesus’ explanation. Jesus takes this deep, rich parable about the actuality and catholicity of the Kingdom of Heaven and the sovereignty and left-handed power of God, and he reduces the parable to trite eschatology. Only a small portion of the parable itself concerns the end-times with the evil people getting what they deserve, and yet most of the explanation concerns this point. Capon writes: Jesus, in this passage, takes a parable that was only tangentially about the eschatological solution to the problem of evil and turns it into a full-fledged parable of judgment. p.108
As Capon explains some theologians believe that Jesus did not actually teach this explanation but that it was added by the gospel writer or his source. (This parable and its explanation are unique to Matthew.) Alternatively, some theologians have said that Jesus himself simply gave a flat and poor explanation of his own parable. Jesus is new to this type of teaching as well. Neither explanation sits well with Capon, nor should it sit well with us. Rather, Capon hypothesizes that Jesus gives his disciples only what they can handle. He gives them a dog biscuit. (see, Mark 7:27-28).
One of the common characteristics of the disciples is that they never seem to get it. They argued over who is greatest (Luke 9:46), Peter rebukes Jesus for saying that Jesus had to die (Matt. 16:23), on the eve of the Ascension (after the Passion and Resurrection) they are still waiting on Jesus to smite the Romans (Acts 1:6), and it was years after Pentecost that they finally figured out that Jesus did not come only for the Jews (Acts 10). At this early stage of Jesus’ ministry, Capon argues, his disciples were simply incapable of understanding and appreciating the depth and nuances of the parable. And so he gives them only what they can handle which is that at the end of the age, God will deal with evil. How God deals with evil, however, will come about in a most unexpected way that the disciples simply cannot handle at this time. He who has ears, let him hear.
But yes, again: Jesus’ extensive dwelling on it here is still a dog biscuit thrown to the disciples to get himself shed of their simplistic eschatology. For between the ultimate cleanup of evil and his disciples’ plausible but misguided eagerness to get their version of it going in high gear right now, he has yet to interpose the dark, mysterious, incomprehensible, unsatisfactory aphesis of his death, resurrection and ascension – the letting be of his redeeming, reconciling work that is both forgiveness and permission at once. Evil will be dealt with, but in no way as unparadoxically as they think: even hell – in the light of the general resurrection – is a kind of aphesis, an eternal suffering of evil. “So go ahead and think all you want about the scandals and the bad guys for the time being,” he seems to say to them; “but you’d better hold onto your hats when you finally see what I’m going to do about them between now and the time to come.” p.112
Dinner is at 6:30. The menu is a baked potato bar. Discussion about 7:15. Hope to see you here!
“It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.”C.S. Lewis. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.