Sunday, July 16, 2023

The Grace of Doing Nothing

Below is a rough translation and some initial comments about Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43, the Revised Common Lectionary gospel reading for the seventh Sunday of Pentecost, in Year A.

For anyone interested in seeing a sermon that I once wrote on this text, please visit my other blog, Mark of St. Mark.

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 was 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 (“was likened”) is in the passive voice and is past tense. 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 the use of the passive voice signify that this is Jesus’ own teaching, 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 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.
3. It is curious that the word “enemy” (ἐχθρὸς) refers to a ‘hated’ one, with most of the emphasis on hating the enemy as opposed to the enemy hating oneself. Incidentally, it is the word that is in the most often-quoted psalm in the New Testament: Psalm 110:1, “The Lord says to my lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.’” 

26 ὅτε δὲ ἐβλάστησεν ὁ χόρτος καὶ καρπὸν ἐποίησεν, τότε ἐφάνη καὶ τὰ 
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 for grain, χόρτος (Anglicized as ‘chortos’) 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 subjects, 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. In contrast to the rash determination to do something, shown in the workers, the owner has the wisdom of considering unintended consequences.
2. 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.
3. Matthew uses the verb ἐκριζόω (pluck up) 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.
4. In every definition that I’ve seen, ἐκριζόω means to “pluck up by the roots.” Here, that definition is important, because it is at the level of the roots that the wheat and weeds are intertwined.

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,’ or simply ‘to 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 
1. While it is the Lectionary committee that decided to follow v.30 with v.36, it bears noting that the verb ἀφίημι (to leave, etc), which we saw in v.30 (see n.1), also begins this verse.
2. The Parable of the Sower has a parable (Mt. 13:3-9), then an explanation (18-23). In between is a discourse about the use of parabolic speech (10-17). In this week’s parable, there is likewise a parable (24-30) then an explanation (36-43). In this case, the intervening material has two brief parables (31-33), then another discourse about the use of parabolic speech (34-35). As one reader suggested last week, these seem to be parables about the use of parables.
3. In v.10, the disciples came to Jesus with the question, “Why do you speak to them (the crowd) in parables?” It is not clear whether the crowd is in attendance when this question and the following answer it given or whether the crowd re-gathered at some point in between Jesus’ explanation of the Parable of the Sower (18-23) and the beginning of the Parable of the Weeds (v.24). In this verse, Jesus leaves the crowd and heads to the house that he left in v.1.

37  δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν,  σπείρων τὸ καλὸν σπέρμα ἐστὶν  υἱὸς τοῦ 
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. As I wrote last week, regarding the Parable of the Sower, Jesus’ use of parables in this chapter strains many definitions and descriptions of what parables are and how they are used. (Click here for last week’s post.)
This week, I want to register more of my puzzlement about the use and explanations of parable. In vv.10-17 of this chapter, Jesus says that he speaks in parabolic speech to “them” (the crowd) because they – fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah – listen, but don’t understand, look, but do not perceive, etc. The disciples, on the other hand (“you”), are blessed: “But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear” (v.16). Likewise, it is given to the disciples to “know the secrets of the kingdom” but not to the crowds (v.11).  This sense of the use of parables seems repeated in v.35, “This was to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet: ‘I will open my mouth to speak in parables; I will proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world.’”
However, if the disciples have exceptional perception, why does Jesus have to explain the parable to them?
And why is it that the explanations of both the parable of the sower and the parable of the weeds are both fairly obvious?
And is the quote in v.35 implying that the things hidden from the foundation of the world are, in fact, made open via parables? Or, is it a matter that the parables reveal the truth, but the masses are unable to perceive it? Then, the disciples are able to perceive it, but Jesus explains it to them anyway.
I find this all very, very confusing.
2. As I imply above (v.28 n.2) and argue in my Politics of Scripture post, 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 a 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.
3. To glance behind the text for a moment – speaking in what I call “literary time” and not “narrative time” – I would suspect that the ‘explanations’ are more a matter of the gospel writers’ reflection on Jesus’ way of speaking than Jesus’ reflection on is own way of speaking.

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 
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

It is obvious by my lack of comments that this text loses a lot of its intrigue for me when it gets to the ‘explanation.’ I could massage that feeling a little by setting up a tension between Jesus’ way of speaking and accusing the gospel writers of “mansplaining the text.” But, I think that is a matter of saying too much, because it is the same gospel writer who presents the parable who also presents the explanation and any declaration that I can tease apart the authentic voice of Jesus and the commentary voice of the gospel writer needs to be clearly warranted by the text itself (such as differences between the gospels, sudden changes in tenses, etc.) What I am willing to say at this point is that the explanations to both parables in this chapter, as well as the intervening material about the use of parables, seem to be addressing something beyond just what is happening in the text itself. I find the material about the use of parables confusing and the explanations not particularly amazing.

The parable itself, however, I find utterly amazing. To imagine that, as the Son of Man is sowing the good seed, an enemy is planting a parallel “systemic imitation” of the crop, which will grow together and, if the rash workers had their way, ruin the good crop as the workers try to root out the bad. That itself is an incredibly insightful description of how evil and good often interact and even, at times, are fed and fueled by the same soil. Laying this parable alongside of the Parable of the Sower (or Parable of the Soils) also raises some intriguing possibilities.

Incidentally, the word “parable” is not used in Matthew until this chapter. Hmm…


  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.

  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.

  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.

  4. I wonder if the explanations or allegories are in some way the first sermons on the parables--an attempt to apply them to lived experience of Matthew's community. They don't make sense as an explanation given by Jesus, at least not to me

  5. Perhaps "COLLECT" the wheat (vs. 30) rather than gather or assemble?

  6. vs. 41: ἐκ τῆς βασιλείας αὐτοῦ - wouldn't that mean 'out of' instead of 'into?'

  7. I have to say it is pure evil genius to try to destroy the harvest by tempting the owner to do it himself. In one sense, it may reveal the impotence of the evil genius who does not seem to have the capacity to directly destroy the harvest (or too clever by half to go the route of trickery under cloak of darkness). Of course the real power is the love and wisdom of the owner who trusts that all will eventually be revealed. He sees no need to rush to judgment, he's invested so much in the planting of good seed, he wouldn't think of destroying it just to get rid of the taint of evil.

    We are certainly in a time that challenges each of us to not rush to judgement but trust the harvest will get rid of everything not worth saving. A purifying fire, which may include burning up parts of ourselves that are not worth saving.

    Perhaps the two kingdom theory makes sense here; that there are not really two kingdoms but only one. The kingdom of this world and the kingdom of God. One is a systemic illusion, the other substantial and real and eternal. Can we trust as much as the one who planted the seed in the first place that real is what will survive, everything else will be thrown into the fire. These days it is a challenge!

  8. Drilling down, the 'enemy' - 'hateful' - is defined as 'Diablo' - accuser. (interesting that both parable and diablo have 'ballo' in them). Maybe what grows the darnel in us and others is the sense of shame and guilt - and separation and fear - created by the accuser? Turns into shaming and blaming others, creating silo walls, arrogance - and despair?


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