Parables of the Kingdom. 13:44-52
Other than the parable of the sower, which serves as an allegorical teaching parable about the way kingdom parables function, Matthew, in this chapter, gathers together a set of parables which proclaim the coming of the kingdom of heaven. In v44-52 we have the kingdom parables of the hidden treasure, the expensive pearl and the dragnet with its interpretive comment. The passage concludes with Jesus reminding the disciples that they are now fully trained to make known the gospel.
v44. The parables of the hidden treasure and expensive pearl are a pair of parables that makes much the same point. The kingdom of God is a present reality and worth everything to obtain. Both parables let us into a secret about the kingdom of God, about the eternal reign of God. The kingdom, in Jesus, is a now reality, although, as we know well, it is also a not yet reality. In the parable of the hidden treasure, some people balk at the deceitfulness involved in hiding the discovery of a treasure until its hiding place can be purchased. In Jewish law, what is found in a field belongs to the owner of the field. Jesus is not passing a comment on the morality of the situation, but is rather illustrating the value of the kingdom. A person will go to great lengths to get the treasure.
v45-46. With the parable of the expensive pearl, Jesus is not suggesting that entry into the kingdom of heaven can be purchased, in the sense of giving up all to gain the prize; salvation is not by works. The parable illustrates the true value of the kingdom. An expert pearl merchant would sell all to obtain a perfect pearl.
v47-48. The parable of the dragnet explains that the kingdom of heaven is like the situation where a net is dragged between two boats, catching "all kinds of fish", both good and bad, which are then sorted for sale, or the rubbish bin. With the kingdom at hand, that situation is now upon us.
v49-50. Just in case the disciples missed the point of the parable, Jesus explains that it depicts a last-days judgement picture. The kingdom of God has burst in upon us, the end is near and the day of sorting is at hand. If we want to escape the fiery furnace, now is the time to "repent and believe", cf. Jer.29:22, Dan.3:6, 4Ezra.7:36.
v51. Jesus asks the disciples whether they understand the hidden meaning of the kingdom parables, namely, that "the kingdom of heaven is at hand." They answer "yes".
v52. Jesus accepts that the disciples do understand the mystery of the coming kingdom and so he encourages them to make that mystery known. Like a wealthy householder who brings out of his storeroom treasures new and old, the disciples, in like manner, should set forth the mystery of the gospel.
Wise as serpents
In an age of tolerance, it is very difficult to proclaim the exclusive nature of the Christian gospel and not end up condemned. Some years ago an Anglican bishop was interviewed on national television in Australia. He was questioned on the growth of Buddhism, the fastest growing religion in Australia. He tried to be both accepting of others, while upholding the uniqueness of Christ. This is not an easy call in today's politically correct environment. There was some 120 responses to the segment, 102 were supportive and 15 were outraged. The 15 got the running, of course.
It's rather sad that our capacity to accept difference is now so undermined by political correctness. A statement like, "I don't think Buddhists are right", is likely to be regarded as racist. So much for free thinking.
The problem we face is how to communicate the uniqueness of the Christian faith in a pluralist secular society. The answer could lie with kingdom parables. The kingdom parables proclaim the gospel in an oblique form so as to draw out the seeker after truth. They are inoffensive little stories that served to please the crowds, blind the Pharisees, bore the Romans, but call out the seeker. In the end, the one who seeks, finds. So, let's get cracking and create some modern-day parables that proclaim that God's eternal reign is about to burst in upon us.
1. What is the main point of the treasure, pearl and net parables?
2. If it is the task of disciples to communicate the gospel of the kingdom, discuss ways we can bring out "new treasures as well as old" in twentieth century parables.
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