Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Grace of Doing Nothing

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

24  Ἄλλην παραβολὴν παρέθηκεν αὐτοῖς λέγων, Ὡμοιώθη  βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν ἀνθρώπῳ σπείραντι καλὸν σπέρμα ἐν τῷ ἀγρῷ αὐτοῦ. 
He set before them another parable saying, “The kingdom of the heavens is likened to a man having sown good seed in his field.
παρέθηκεν: AAI 3s, παρατίθημι, 1) to place beside or near or set before 
λέγων: PAPart nsm, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 
Ὡμοιώθη : API 3s, ὁμοιόω, 1) to be made like  2) to liken, compare  2a) illustrate by comparisons
σπείραντι : AAPart dsm, σπείρω, 1) to sow, scatter, seed 
1. Is the “them” in this verse the disciples (v.10) or the crowd (v.34)?
2. When the verb Ὡμοιώθη (“is likened”) is in the passive voice. In Matthew, it occurs here and two other times in the present passive form (18:23 and 22:2) and two times in the future passive form (7:26 and 25:1). Does it signify Jesus’ own teaching, as a way of saying “the Kingdom of heaven is like…”? Or, does it signify a popular understanding of the kingdom, as in, “This is how people see the kingdom of heaven …”?  

25 ἐν δὲ τῷ καθεύδειν τοὺς ἀνθρώπους ἦλθεν αὐτοῦ  ἐχθρὸς καὶ ἐπέσπειρεν  ζιζάνια ἀνὰ μέσον τοῦ σίτου καὶ ἀπῆλθεν. 
Yet when the men were sleeping his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and departed.
καθεύδειν: PAInf, καθεύδω, 1) to fall asleep, drop off to sleep 
ἦλθεν: AAI 3s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come 
ἐπέσπειρεν: AAI 3s, ἐπισπείρω, 1) to sow above or besides
ἀπῆλθεν: AAI 3s, ἀπέρχομαι, 1) to go away, depart 
1. ζιζάνια is defined by greattreasures.org as “a kind of darnel, bastard wheat, resembling wheat except that the grains are black.” Zizania in contemporary usage refer to the genus of grains that includes some types of wild rice. The key, for this text, may be that it resembles wheat. That may explain why it was not spotted by the workers until the root systems had time to intertwine and the grain was beginning to appear.
2. Our use of the word “weed” is a judgment call in itself, indicating the value that we ascribe and that intent that we have, more than the actual intrinsic qualities of the plant itself.

26 ὅτε δὲ ἐβλάστησεν ὁ χόρτος καὶ καρπὸν ἐποίησεν, τότε ἐφάνη καὶ τὰ 
ζιζάνια. 
Yet when the grain sprouted and bore fruit, then the weeds appeared also.
ἐβλάστησεν : AAI 3s, βλαστάνω, 1) to sprout, bud, put forth new leaves  2) to produce 
ἐποίησεν: AAi 3s, ποιέω, 1) to make  …  1d) to produce, bear, shoot forth 
ἐφάνη: API 3s, φαίνω, 1) to bring forth into the light, …  2b) to become evident, to be brought forth into the light,   come to view, appear
1. The word χόρτος (chortos, grain) is etymologically related to ‘hortos’ from which we get horticulture. It is a spatial reference, to a place like an enclosed feeding ground, so it usually refers to crops that feed cattle (like the farming phrase ‘feed corn.’)

27 προσελθόντες δὲ οἱ δοῦλοι τοῦ οἰκοδεσπότου εἶπον αὐτῷ, Κύριε, οὐχὶ καλὸν σπέρμα ἔσπειρας ἐν τῷ σῷ ἀγρῷ; πόθεν οὖν ἔχει ζιζάνια; 
Then the servants of the householder having come said to him, ‘Lord, did you not sow good seed in the field? Then from where does it have weeds?’
προσελθόντες : AAPart npm, προσέρχομαι, 1) to come to, approach 
εἶπον: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 
ἔσπειρας : AAI 2s σπείρω, 1) to sow, scatter, seed 
ἔχει: PAI 3s, ἔχω, 1) to have, i.e. to hold


28  δὲ ἔφη αὐτοῖς, Ἐχθρὸς ἄνθρωπος τοῦτο ἐποίησεν. οἱ δὲ δοῦλοι λέγουσιν 
αὐτῷ, Θέλεις οὖν ἀπελθόντες συλλέξωμεν αὐτά; 
Then he was declaring to them, ‘An enemy man did this.’ Then the servants said to him, ‘Do you wish, then, having gone we should gather them?’
ἔφη : IAI 3s, φημί, 1) to make known one's thoughts, to declare   2) to say  
ἐποίησεν: AAI 3s, ποιέω, 1) to make  1a) with the names of things made, to produce, construct,  form, fashion, etc.  1b) to be the authors of, the cause 
λέγουσιν: PAI 3p, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 
Θέλεις: PAI 2s, θέλω, 1) to will, have in mind, intend 
ἀπελθόντες: AAPart npm, ἀπέρχομαι, 1) to go away, depart  1a) to go away in order to follow any one, go after him, to  follow his party, follow him as a leader 
συλλέξωμεν: AASubj 1p, συλλέγω, 1) to gather up  2) to collect in order to carry off  
1. The owner’s words have two subjects, ‘enemy’ and ‘man.’ Perhaps the duplicity emphasizes that this is not a windblown infestation of weeds. Whatever the reason for the two subject, I’m pretty sure Matthew would want us to call it a “manemy.”
2. What parables do not do is tell us everything. In this case, how does the owner know this was an act of an enemy and not bad seed or an infestation? The narrator knows, as is the omniscience often granted to narrators. But, the owner? I suspect this omniscient declaration in the story marks the place where the parable becomes something that those “with ears” can hear and those without cannot. See my article in The Politics of Scripture for more information.
3. The workers’ response, to me, is the very common response to the uncommon insight of the owner. It is the siren song of every fixer, to go and do what has to be done. There is no question of the rightness or wrongness; no question of the workers’ competence; and no question of the damage that may ensue. Everything is obvious, so they are merely awaiting permission to fix it.

29  δέ φησιν, Οὔ, μήποτε συλλέγοντες τὰ ζιζάνια ἐκριζώσητε ἅμα αὐτοῖς 
τὸν σῖτον. 
Then the man declares, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you may pluck among them the wheat.
φησιν: PAI 3s, φημί, 1) to make known one's thoughts, to declare   2) to say
συλλέγοντες: PAPart npm, συλλέγω, 1) to gather up  2) to collect in order to carry off
ἐκριζώσητε : AAS 2p, ἐκριζόω, 1) to root out, pluck up by the roots 
1. For some reason, both times that the owner speaks in this parable, Matthew does not use λέγω (say), but φημί (declares). There is not a strict pattern of Matthew’s use of φημί, but he generally uses it when someone in a superior position is speaking to subordinates.
2. Matthew uses the verb ἐκριζόω two times. The second is in 15:13, related to the Pharisees: "Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up.” That statement, like the owner’s declaration, is followed by “Leave them,” using the same word ἄφετε that begins v.30 in our text.

30 ἄφετε συναυξάνεσθαι ἀμφότερα ἕως τοῦ θερισμοῦ: καὶ ἐν καιρῷ τοῦ 
θερισμοῦ ἐρῶ τοῖς θερισταῖς, Συλλέξατε πρῶτον τὰ ζιζάνια καὶ δήσατε 
αὐτὰ εἰς δέσμας πρὸς τὸ κατακαῦσαι αὐτά, τὸν δὲ σῖτον συναγάγετε εἰς τὴν ἀποθήκην μου. 
Leave both to grow together until the harvest; and in time of the harvest say to the harvesters, ‘Gather first the weeds and bind them into bundles to burn them, but assemble the wheat into my granary.”
ἄφετε: AAImpv 2p, ἀφίημι, 1) to send away  …  2) to permit, allow, not to hinder, to give up a thing to a person
συναυξάνεσθαι : PPInf, συναυξάνω, grow together
ἐρῶ : FAI 1s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 
Συλλέξατε: AAImpv 2p, συλλέγω, 1) to gather up 2) collect in order to carry off 
δήσατε: AAImpv 2p, δέω, 1) to bind tie, fasten 
κατακαῦσαι: AAInf, κατακαίω, 1) to burn up, consume by fire 
συναγάγετε: AAImpv 2p, συνάγω, 1) to gather together, to gather 
1. The verb ἀφίημι, as I tend to point out repeatedly, is a word with many possible meanings, ranging from ‘divorce’ to ‘forgive (sin),’ to ‘leave alone,’ to (in the next verse) simply ‘leave.’  
2. Note that the ‘harvesters’ are different than ‘the servants’ who want to go out and fix things. See the note for v.39 below.
3. I am as offended as you are that I have “assemble the wheat,” but I am looking for a sufficient synonym for “gather” that is not “gather.” The reason is that Matthew uses two different terms with regard to the harvesting. For the weeds, he uses συλλέγω several times in this story. For the wheat, in this one instance, Matthew uses συνάγω (which is etymologically related to the word synagogue.) Again, I cannot see a strict distinction in the meaning of the words themselves – although someone else may have better insight here – I just think the verb change is striking. There is a gathering and then there’s a gathering. 

[The lectionary omits vv. 31-35]

36 Τότε ἀφεὶς τοὺς ὄχλους ἦλθεν εἰς τὴν οἰκίαν. καὶ προσῆλθον αὐτῷ οἱ 
μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ λέγοντες, Διασάφησον ἡμῖν τὴν παραβολὴν τῶν ζιζανίων 
τοῦ ἀγροῦ. 
Then having left the crowd he went to the house.  And his disciples came to him saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.”
ἀφεὶς: AAPart nsm, ἀφίημι, 1) to send away  …  3) to leave, go way from one ἦλθεν: AAI 3s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come
προσῆλθον: AAI 3p, προσέρχομαι, 1) to come to, approach  2) draw near to 
λέγοντες: PAPart npm, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 
Διασάφησον : AAImpv 2s, διασαφέω, 1) to make clear or plain, to explain, unfold, declare  2) of things done, to declare i.e. to tell, announce, narrate 

37  δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν,  σπείρων τὸ καλὸν σπέρμα ἐστὶν  υἱὸς τοῦ 
ἀνθρώπου: 
Then having answered he said, “The one sowing the good seed is the son of man;
ἀποκριθεὶς: APPart nsm, ἀποκρίνομαι, 1) to give an answer to a question proposed, to answer
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 
σπείρων: PAPart nsm, σπείρω, 1) to sow, scatter, seed 
ἐστὶν: PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
1. I need to register my puzzlement and concern about this “explanation.” It violates my understanding of parables in two respects.
A) The first – and I am willing to let go of this objection if necessary – is that many scholars and my own New Testament teachers have averred that parables are not one-to-one analogies, where everything is something. Rather, they teach, parables tend to have an overarching meaning, although that meaning may be multi-dimensional in itself. Their point is that the way to interpret parables is not to do what Jesus does here, to say ‘x means y, and v means z, and ….”
B) My second objection is that Jesus-in-Matthew himself speaks of parables as something other than plainly explainable analogies. See vv. 10-17 of this very chapter. Yet, this “explanation” is incredibly pedestrian and seems plainly clear to anyone. When Jesus uses the phrase “Let those with ears hear” in v.9 above and again in v.43 below, it seems like only certain persons are able to comprehend the “secrets of the kingdom of heaven” (v.10) in them. However, with this explanation, it seems like anyone with ears or the faculty of hearing itself would be able to understand the meaning.
2. As I imply above (v.28 n.2), I think perhaps this tension between the plain meaning of the parables and the insight of those who are given the secrets of the kingdom of God may have less to do with the inscrutability of the parabolic speech itself, and more to do with some element of the parable that makes it unbelievable or unexpected. The unexpected moment of this parable (in my mind) is that there is an enemy at work who is doing something incredibly subtle. Rather than simply trashing the newly sown crop, he is planting an systemic imitation of a crop, where the differences between them are not evident until they begin to bear fruit. Even then, because their root systems are intertwined, the owner sagely advises not to try to root out the weeds prematurely, because in doing so one risks the unintended consequence of also ruining the wheat.
HOWEVER, this interpretation of the parable is complete without this additional ‘explanation.’ So, again, I fail to see what the explanation adds to the parable itself.

38  δὲ ἀγρός ἐστιν  κόσμος: τὸ δὲ καλὸν σπέρμα, οὗτοί εἰσιν οἱ υἱοὶ τῆς 
βασιλείας: τὰ δὲ ζιζάνιά εἰσιν οἱ υἱοὶ τοῦ πονηροῦ, 
and the field is the world; and the good seed, they are the sons of the kingdom; and the weeds are the sons of the evil,
ἐστὶν: PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
εἰσιν: PAI 3p, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present

39  δὲ ἐχθρὸς ὁ σπείρας αὐτά ἐστιν  διάβολος:  δὲ θερισμὸς συντέλεια 
αἰῶνός ἐστιν, οἱ δὲ θερισταὶ ἄγγελοί εἰσιν.
and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; and the harvest is the consummate age, and the harvesters are the angels.
ἐστὶν: PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
εἰσιν: PAI 3p, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
1. We noted above that the harvesters are different from the servants who want to go out and fix things. Here, that difference is between the children of the kingdom and the angels. It is the angels at the end of the age whose job is to root out the children of evil.

40 ὥσπερ οὖν συλλέγεται τὰ ζιζάνια καὶ πυρὶ [κατα]καίεται, οὕτως ἔσται ἐν 
τῇ συντελείᾳ τοῦ αἰῶνος:
Therefore, just as they the weeds are gathered and burned up in fire, so will be in the consummation of the ages;
συλλέγεται: PPI 3s, συλλέγω, 1) to gather up 
[κατα]καίεται: PPI 3s, κατακαίω, 1) to burn up, consume by fire
ἔσται: FMI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present

41 ἀποστελεῖ  υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου τοὺς ἀγγέλους αὐτοῦ, καὶ συλλέξουσιν 
ἐκ τῆς βασιλείας αὐτοῦ πάντα τὰ σκάνδαλα καὶ τοὺς ποιοῦντας τὴν 
ἀνομίαν, 
The Son of Man will send his angels, and gather into his kingdom all the stumbling blocks and the workers of lawlessness,
ἀποστελεῖ: FAI 3s, ἀποστέλλω, 1) to order (one) to go to a place appointed 
συλλέξουσιν: FAI 3p, συλλέγω, 1) to gather up 

42 καὶ βαλοῦσιν αὐτοὺς εἰς τὴν κάμινον τοῦ πυρός: ἐκεῖ ἔσται  κλαυθμὸς 
καὶ  βρυγμὸς τῶν ὀδόντων. 
and throw them into the furnace of fire; where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
βαλοῦσιν: FAI 3p, βάλλω, 1) to throw or let go of a thing without caring where it falls 
ἔσται: FMI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
1. Matthew uses the dyad “weeping and gnashing of teeth” six times: here, 8:12, 13:50, 22:13, 24:51, and 25:30.

43 Τότε οἱ δίκαιοι ἐκλάμψουσιν ὡς  ἥλιος ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτῶν. 
 ἔχων ὦτα ἀκουέτω. 
Then the righteous will shine as the sun in the kingdom of their father. Who has ears, hear.”
ἐκλάμψουσιν: FAI 3p, ἐκλάμπω, 1) to shine forth 
ἀκουέτω: PAImpv 3s, ἀκούω, 1) to be endowed with the faculty of hearing

4 comments:

  1. What do you think Matthew's purpose was in adding the interpretation of the parable? Or do you think this might be a later addition? The interpretation this week seems to me to reinforce a problem the church continues to struggle with-who is in and who is out. I might be all wet here, but I think that is in direct opposition to the point Jesus is making with the parable in the first place.

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  2. I agree with you, Mark, I don't believe that this parable can be interpreted allegorically as Matthew has Jesus doing because it changes the underlying meaning of the story - ie be patient- to a parable of the last judgement. This may, however, have been a simple interpretation of the early church.

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  3. Mark F: I don't think you are all wet. I do find incongruence between the parable and the interpretation. I suspect there is something behind the text, something going on in Matthew's community that is not possible for me to tease out, that he is addressing with his presentation of this parable and particularly with the explanation.

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