Day 87: March 28, 2013

Today's Reading(s)

Matthew 13:24-30 Read Online


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Today's Reflection

Key Verse(s)

The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field.

—Matthew 13:24

How Do We Read a Confusing Story?
by Darrell Gwaltney,

Good stories ring true. Whether we read novels, watch television shows, or take in films, if the story rings true, we watch it with captivated interest. If we believe and care about the characters, then we invest ourselves and follow their stories. We want to know how the story ends.

Some of the best stories I learned as a child had ambiguous endings. My Great Uncle Milfred would tell me a story and come to the end of it with a grin on his face. I’d wait for him to tell me the ending and then he’d say, “How do you think it ended?”

“I don’t know,” I would say, “Please, tell me!”

He would often reply, “Great stories have many endings. You choose the one you like best.”

Jesus was a storyteller. We call Jesus’ particular kind of story a parable. His parables play out in everyday life situations. They have common characters and life experiences, and sometimes they have surprise endings. Some of Jesus’ parables are also very ambiguous in their meaning.

The parable in today’s scripture gives us one of those ambiguous parables, set in everyday life experiences but difficult to understand. It’s so difficult to understand, the disciples asked Jesus to tell them what it means.

Jesus actually told them what the parable means later in this chapter, but resist reading further because we’ll look at Jesus’ explanation on April 1. Now, let’s read the parable and pretend we’re sitting at the feet of Jesus. Let’s be confused together.

We should do this because parables make us think. We should look for the connections in our everyday lives. Sometimes the connections differ for various people. Sometimes the way they confuse us is part of the point they’re making.

The parable starts with “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field” (verse 24). We immediately wonder: Who was the man? What’s the seed? And where is the field?

It then gets difficult to understand because someone sowed weeds in the same field and they grew too. Who sowed the weeds and why?

When the workers saw the weeds and asked to pull them up they were told, “Leave them alone!” Why?

In the end, the weeds were gathered up and burned. And the wheat found its way to the barn. What does that mean?

When we hear a parable like this and have a difficult time understanding it, we shouldn’t be alarmed. The tension of not understanding finds a connection with everyday life.

All around us things are happening—good things, bad things, confusing things—and we’re left to interpret them and wonder how God works among us. A parable like this should cause us to look at our lives and consider our actions. Jesus asked His listeners to look around and see what God is doing.

We should ask ourselves, “What does this parable ask of us? Should we be sowing seeds? Should we be pulling weeds? Should we be harvesting wheat? What should we be doing with our lives?”

In Matthew 13:11, Jesus said He spoke in parables because the secrets of the kingdom of heaven have been given to His followers. Resist the urge to have the answer to the parable. There are secrets of the kingdom here. Let us wait together to find the ending.

Reflection Questions

  1. Are you able to read a parable like this and become comfortable with not understanding it? What can you learn by being confused?
  2. Jesus tells this parable in the context of explaining the secrets of the kingdom of heaven.  Based upon this small amount of information, how would you read this parable as revealing how the Kingdom of Heaven works?
  3. We think we should always be able to find the answer. What might we learn from this parable since it is very difficult to understand the parable as it is in the biblical text (without Jesus’ explanation later in the chapter)?

About the Author

Darrell Gwaltney
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Darrell comes from St. Louis, Missouri, so it makes sense that he’s an avid St. Louis Cardinals baseball fan. For the last 33 years, he’s served in pastoral and teaching ministry. Since May 2004, he’s been the Dean for the School of Religion at Belmont University and continues to serve churches in the area as interim pastor. He’s married to Donna and has three adult children. You can find him online at DarrellGwaltney.com and follow him on Twitter @DarrellGwaltney.