PARABLES OF THE KINGDOM (Bible Hub, pg. 69)
What do you understand by the phrase, ‘Kingdom of God’? (your personal response)
The phrase does not appear in other writings and it seems that it was not used by Jews at all, even though God was referred to as king. It appears 91 times on the lips of Jesus in the synoptic gospels and 13 more times later, but then the use of the phrase seems to die out.
What do you make of this? – Jesus understood the proclamation of the Kingdom of God as his core role, presumably arising from the experience he had at his baptism and the understanding gained in the wilderness. The Kingdom of God was a concept he formulated to communicate this insight, but failed in his attempt. People, for the most part, did not understand, and so the idea was not picked up by those who followed. Instead, they fell back into old patterns and wishful thinking. In Christian theology, Jesus’ core message of the Kingdom was overtaken by the cross and resurrection, and in popular religion, the understanding of the Kingdom was trivialised in terms of that which would come after an apocalyptic end to the world or, alternatively, notions of heaven after death.
Try to get into the shoes of a 1st century Jew. What do they expect? – a change of the nation’s fortunes, returning to the glory days of David and Solomon, and bringing prosperity and independence
What are their questions? – When? How? Who will be God’s messiah?
In Mt.13:9 (and parallels), Mk. 4:23 and Mt. 13:43, we read, “He who has ears, let him hear.” What does this repeated theme imply? –‘You are about to hear something that you don’t expect, and may miss it if you don’t pay close attention.’
How does this help you judge the content? – look for the surprising, the unexpected
Looking at this section in the Bible Hub parallels, note how many times you see “The Kingdom… is like…
What is a parable? – a word symbol, many-layered story with a point
In Mk.4:10-12 and parallels, why does Jesus say he speaks in parables? – so that people do not understand
Why might Jesus not want people to understand? – the Kingdom is not something available to rational understanding, rather, from the seeking that comes from trying to understand; the Kingdom is not something grasped by the mind, but experienced as one gives oneself to it; understanding a parable may lead to a simplistic understanding of something that is far more than can be grasped by the mind, and this simplistic understanding may convey a false confidence that leads to a cessation of the necessary seeking and thus prevent participation in the Kingdom.
If Jesus does not want understanding, do you think he would go on to explain a parable as in Mt.13:18-23; 37-43 and 49-50 (and parallels)? – of course not, but it is understandable for gospel writers to try to offer an explanation.
So, skipping these explanations, jump from Mk.4:12 to vv. 21-22. What is Jesus saying here? – the answer is in plain sight; all will be revealed
Let’s look at the first parable in Mk.4:3-8 and parallels.
What is the point Jesus is making? – the product of his teaching; the results are a function of where the seed falls, the ultimate harvest is in God’s hands
Where are the places the seed can fall? – on the path (no soil), rocky ground (thin soil), amongst thorns (crowded soil), good soil
What happens in each? – on the path, the seed is food for the birds; on rocky ground, there is insufficient soil for growth and the plants wither; amongst the thorns, the plants are choked so they produce no grain; in good soil the seed produces up to 100-fold in grain.
Which of the first three options is most dangerous for you? (write) – (your personal response; it may vary from day to day)
Where in your body do you feel it? Put your hand on it. (your personal response)
Where is the fertile ground in you? – where I am open, where new growth in ideas/discernment/relationships/compassion/self-awareness is nurtured
What are the thorns in you; the things that crowd out the young seedlings? – busyness, distractions, holding on to old ideas, religion, prejudices, fears
What are your questions about the Kingdom? – how to gain it; what do I have to do
What does this parable suggest about the Kingdom? – the potential harvest is exceedingly great, but there are many things that may keep me from it.
In Mk.4:26-29, what is the main point of the parable within its own imagery? – the seed grows without man understanding how it happens, but in the end, he reaps the harvest.
Where is the seed sown? – upon the ground.
What does that feel like in you? – deep inside; unconscious mind
What point is Jesus making about the Kingdom? – we don’t make it happen; our role is to be there for ‘harvest time’
What would be the most radical element for a Jew of the day? – the hiddenness; the slowness; the lack of human involvement
Continuing with vv. 30-32, what is the main point within its own imagery? – the size contrast between the seed and bush that comes from it.
What point is Jesus making about the Kingdom? – it has the smallest of beginnings
How does this contrast with Jewish expectations? – The Jews expected ‘shock and awe’.
Now to Mt.13:33
What is the main point within its own imagery? – the yeast has the power to expand the dough out of all proportion to its size.
What point is Jesus making about the Kingdom? – it is hidden, working way until the the task is done
How does this contrast with Jewish expectations? – the venue of the Kingdom for the Jews is history, and that which initiates it is God’s ‘Chosen One’; it comes with fire in a ‘blaze of glory’
What does this mean socially? – we won’t see the Kingdom in the world, for it is hidden, waiting for it to manifest in individuals.
What does this mean personally? – we each are the dough, and when we are filled with the Kingdom, i.e. when we are God’s, then, and only then, will our society reflect the values of the Kingdom.
What would it mean for your growth if you knew this ‘leaven’ was in you? – I would be able to risk that which is needed, because I would know I have the potential of God in me.
What is the common source of all three parables? – everyday events of life
Taken overall, what is Jesus saying to the people? Note: none of these parables is in the future tense. – the Kingdom is a process, not an event; going on right now, unseen
Are there any references to who or what will initiate the Kingdom? – God has sown the seeds, hidden the yeast, but the result hinges on our faith and willingness to ‘do the will.’
With what colours would you describe this kingdom? – (your personal response)
Close your eyes now and make a gesture that describes it. – (your personal response)
Does it grow in us or do we enter it? – the parables suggest it grows in us, but Jesus’ teachings also indicate we need to choose to make it happen, so in this sense, we enter it in terms of entering into the process.
What do the parables say about the nature of God? – God has created the potential for life in the Kingdom; it is available right now, but it is up to each individual to be part of it. God cannot do this for us. In this sense, God is the ‘backdrop’ and the ‘stage’ through which the drama of human lives unfold.
Look at Mt.13:24-30. What is the main point in its own imagery? – weeds are an inevitable part of nature, but there is a danger to wheat if the weeds are pulled out.
What is the main point to the audience?– The Kingdom has both ‘weeds’ and ‘wheat’ growing in it – in us – and we endanger our growth by trying to separate it
Is the last part of v. 30 (after “…until the harvest) part of this parable? i.e. is it consistent with Jesus teachings? – this kind of judgment is not characteristic of Jesus, who taught of the unlimited mercy and forgiveness of God.
Who does it remind you of? – John the Baptist
In Mt.13:44-46, what is the central point Jesus is trying to make in these? – the Kingdom is precious, costly, hidden
What is the most radical thing for the Jews of the day? – the Kingdom is already present, hidden and ready to be found; there is a cost to the individual
How are these two parables similar? – both have hidden value, both have willingness to pay anything for it.
How are these two parables different? – In the first, the Kingdom is like the treasure, which is found accidentally; in the second it is like the man who is searching, and the discovery is no accident..
What does “in his joy” add to the quality of the treasure in v.44? Rephrase it in your own words and write it down. – the ecstasy resulting from his discovery made any price for it a bargain he just could not refuse.
Is selling ‘all’ a sacrifice? – “in his joy” suggests it is no sacrifice at all
What is Jesus bringing to the understanding of the Kingdom using the treasure motif? – its value is beyond any human concept of value
Where are these treasures found? – under ground and under water
What does this add? – these often symbolise the unconscious mind in dreams, so it could be we must look there for the treasure.
What does one have to do to get the treasure? – seek it or recognise it when one stumbles on it, be prepared to give whatever is required to possess it.
What is ‘all’? – all of that which is makes me who I am: all I have, all that makes up my personality, the people I love, my talents, my interests, my passions, et al.
What does it mean to ‘sell’? – an exchange in order to acquire
To whom does one sell it? – God
What does this process imply about the nature of God? – God needs something; God is not complete without my ‘all’, and I am not complete with it, either
Is selling all a one time transaction? – given I will continue to acquire new aspects of myself as I learn and experience, new relationships as I meet people, new interests, etc, I will have to turn these over to God, perhaps daily, hourly or every minute. It is also likely that I will tend to reclaim the many aspects of greatest importance, so I will have to renew my commitment to sell over and over.
If you sell all, what is your relationship to it? – in practice, I don’t lose contact with any of the ‘all’; rather, I no longer can claim ownership of it. I can use it, but it can’t use me, and none of it can get in the way of doing the will of God.
Write: Rephrase ‘sell all’ in a way that you can understand what is required of you. (your personal response)