Why Jesus told stories
One farmer, four kinds of dirt1 That same day, Jesus left the house. He took a walk to the lake and sat by the shoreline. 2 A crowd followed him. It grew so large that Jesus decided to get in a boat and address the folks while he sat there. The people stood along the shore and listened. 3 Jesus taught the people a lot by using stories known as parables. Jesus said, “Listen, a farmer went out to plant some seeds. 4 As he threw seeds into the air, scattering them in the field, some seeds fell on the footpath at the edge of the field. Birds swooped down and scooped them up. 5 Some seeds fell on rocky ground, where there wasn’t much dirt. The seeds sprang up quickly. 6 But the sun scorched the plants because they didn’t have a good root system for drawing moisture. So, the plants withered away and died. 7 Other seeds fell into briar patches. When the seeds started to pop up through the ground, the fast-growing thorns invaded their space and choked them to death. 8 Some of the seed, however, fell into good dirt. Those seeds grew, sprouted, and produced 30, 60, and even 100 times more than was planted.” 9 Then Jesus told the people, “If you’ve got ears, you need to be hearing what I’m saying.”
Disciples: “Why parables?”10 The disciples got together and went to Jesus with a question: “Why do you use parables to teach the people?” 11 Jesus said, “You know something about the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s not a mystery to you. But it’s a mystery to them. 12 People who know about the Kingdom are going to learn even more. As for folks who don’t know much about the Kingdom, they’ll lose what little they do know. 13 Here’s the reason I use parables to teach them. It’s because people are looking, but they can’t see anything. They’re hearing, but not listening, so they don’t understand. 14 This fulfills a prophecy of Isaiah:
‘You’ll listen, but you’ll never understand what you’re hearing.
You’ll look until you’re cross eyed, but you won’t see a thing.
These people have callous hearts.
They’ve got plugged up ears that can barely hear.
And they’ve got their eyes shut tight.
They did all this on purpose. They’ve shut themselves off.
If they could see what I would show them,
if they could hear what I have to say,
if they could open their hearts and let it all sink in,
they would stop sinning. And I would heal them.'
Jesus explains the farming parable18 Listen, and I’ll explain the parable of the farmer. 19 Seed the farmer planted in a field is the message about the Kingdom. Seed that lands on the hard-packed path represents people who don’t understand the message. Satan quickly snatches the seed away. 20 Seed that lands on rocky dirt represents the message getting a warm reception. People like what they hear and they embrace it. 21 But the message within them dies quickly because its roots are shallow. When these people get smacked by persecution and other troubles because of their belief in the Kingdom, they quit. 22 Seed that lands in the briar patch are people who hear the message. But life’s worries and the lure of building wealth chokes the message to death. 23 Seed that lands in good soil, well, that’s the person who hears the message about the kingdom and actually understands it. That person produces a harvest. A hundred times more than what they plant. Sixty times more for others. Thirty for some.”
Weeds in the wheat, a parable24 Jesus told them another parable. He told the folks, “The Kingdom of Heaven is a bit like a farmer throwing seed in his field. 25 But here’s what happens. At night, while most people are sleeping, someone who doesn’t like the farmer one bit sneaks into the field. Now the farmer had planted wheat. But this person plants weeds, and plenty of them. 26 When the wheat stalks appear, so do the weeds. 27 Some of the people who work for the farmer ask him, ‘Boss, didn’t you plant good seed that didn’t have weeds mixed in? Where did all these weeds come from?’ 28 The farmer says, ‘Someone who has it in for me did this.’ So the farmhands ask, ‘Do you want us to go out in the field and pull the weeds?’ 29 The farmer says, ‘Oh, heavens no. If we try to pull those weeds, we would end up pulling some of that wheat, too. 30 Let the wheat and weeds grow together. It’ll be okay. We’ll deal with this at harvest time. I’ll tell the workers cutting the wheat to cut the weeds first and tie them into bundles so we can burn them. But we’ll store the wheat in the granary.
Mustard seed story31 In another parable, Jesus said, “There’s something else the Kingdom of Heaven is like. It’s like a mustard seed that a farmer planted in his field. 32 It’s a tiny speck of a seed, the smallest you’d ever want to plant. But when it grows up, it’s the tallest plant in the garden. It’s a tree as far as birds are concerned. They build nests in the branches.”
Yeast story33 In another parable, Jesus said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like yeast that a woman works into three batches of bread dough. She works it in good, until it raises the dough into three fat loaves."
Jesus specialized in parables34 Jesus said all of this in parables. He didn’t usually open his mouth without telling someone a parable. 35 He did this to fulfill one of the prophecies:
When I open my mouth, parables will fall out.
I’ll tell secrets kept since the first day of earth.
Jesus decodes the weeds parable36 Jesus left the crowds and went back into the house. The disciples went with him and asked, “Would you tell us what you were talking about with that parable about weeds in the field?” 37 Jesus said, “The farmer planting the good seed is the Son of Humans. 38 The field is the world. The good seed are citizens of the Kingdom. The weeds are folks who are full of the devil. 39 The one who planted weeds in the field, that’s Satan himself. As for the harvest, that’s the end of the world as you know it. Harvest workers are angels. 40 Just to make it clear, weeds get pulled and then burned in a fire. That’s what’s going to happen at the end. 41 The Son of Humans will send his angels on a mission. They’re going to hunt down and bring back everyone and everything that trashes God’s laws. 42 Angels will throw all of them into a blazing furnace. Folks are going to wail. They’re going to clench their teeth so hard that they’ll grind them. 43 But good folks will glow like sunshine in the Kingdom of their Father. If you’ve got ears, you need to be hearing what I’m saying.”
What heaven is worth44 I’ll tell you what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. It’s like a treasure a man discovers in a field. The man quickly hides the treasure. Then he rushes home to sell everything he owns so he’ll have enough money to buy the field and own the treasure. 45 The Kingdom of Heaven is like an exquisite pearl that a merchant finds when he’s looking for pearls to sell. 46 When he finds a pearl he knows is worth a lot of money, he goes back home and sells everything he owns so he can buy it.
Bad won’t make the cut47 The Kingdom of Heaven is like fishing with a net. A crew tosses a net into the water and catches all kinds of fish. 48 When the crew hauls in the net and sees that it’s full, they take their catch to shore. There, they sit down and separate the fish. Good fish get pitched into the baskets. Bad fish get thrown away. 49 That’s what it’s going to be like in the end. Angels will separate the bad from the good. 50 Bad folks will get tossed into a blazing furnace. They’re going to wail. They’re going to clench their teeth so hard that they grind them. 51 Do you understand all of this? Am I getting through to you?” They said, “Yes.” 52 Jesus said, “Because of what I’ve just told you, I want you to understand this. Every religion teacher who becomes a citizen in the Kingdom of Heaven is like the head of a house. When it’s time to gather up the household valuables, out come treasures new and old.”
Jesus gets no respect at home53 After Jesus finished teaching the people these parables, he left the area. 54 Jesus returned to his hometown. He taught the hometown folks in their synagogue. Astonished, they said, “Where did he get all this insight, and power to do miracles? 55 Isn’t he the carpenter’s boy? Isn’t his mother Mary and his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas? 56 And don’t his sisters still live here in the village? If so, where did he come up with all this stuff?” 57 The people felt deeply insulted by Jesus. He simply replied, “A prophet can get some respect just about everywhere he goes except at home, among the hometown folks and family and friends.” 58 Jesus didn’t do many miracles there because they didn’t believe what he had to say.
Sea of Galilee.
A parable is a story with a spiritual message embedded in it.
Jesus is referring to Isaiah 6:9-10.
Literally, “scribe.” Scribes specialized in the Jewish laws. Each of the major groups of Jews had their own scribes. That included the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes. But in the time of Jesus, most scribes were Pharisees. This was the branch of the Jewish faith well-known for its meticulous devotion to observing the Law as they interpreted it, and insisting that everyone else do the same.
Jesus may have been referring to the idea he expressed earlier: “Don’t think for one second that I came to repeal and replace our Bible—erasing the laws of Moses or the books of the prophets. I didn’t come to finish them off. I came to finish what they started” (5:17). Jewish believers who had followed the Jewish laws written on scrolls would learn how to make the adjustment to following laws written on the heart (Jeremiah 31:33).
Jesus said the rich soil planted with seed represents people who hang on to the message about the Kingdom of Heaven and they watch it produce “30, 60, and even 100 times more than was planted” (13:8). What kind of crop do you think Jesus was talking about?
Jesus tells a parable about an enemy of a farmer who plants weeds in the farmer’s field (13:24-30). How should we decode that parable, by identifying the characters and the point of the story?
What do you think is the point of the little story about how a mustard seed grows (13:31-32)?
What would you guess is the point of the story about how yeast gets worked into bread dough (13:33)?
Jesus has told the people stories to help them get a better idea about what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. He says now he wants to make sure they understand one more thing. “Every religion teacher (literally “scribe”) who becomes a citizen in the Kingdom of Heaven is like the head of a house. When it’s time to gather up the household valuables, out come treasures new and old” (13:52). It’s anyone’s guess what Jesus meant by that. You’re anyone. So go ahead and guess.
When Jesus goes home to Nazareth, he gets a weak reception. The hometown people “felt deeply insulted by Jesus” (13:53-58). Based on what Matthew says and what you may have read in other Gospel stories about his visit home (Mark 6:1-6; Luke 4:16-30), what do you think might have been some of the reasons the people got upset with him?
LIFE APPLICATION. Matthew says, “Jesus taught the people a lot by using stories known as parables” (13:3). Perhaps one of the reasons there are so many parables of Jesus preserved in the Bible is because they were easy to remember. Think about the last sermon you heard. What do you remember from it? And why do you think some preachers tell so few stories to illustrate their points?
LIFE APPLICATION. Jesus paraphrased the prophet Isaiah by complaining about people who rejected him:
“If they could see what I would show them,
if they could hear what I have to say,
if they could understand with a soft heart,
they would stop sinning. And I would heal them” (13:15).
Why do you think so many people reject even the most basic teachings of Jesus, to love God and treat others the way we want other people to treat us?
LIFE APPLICATION. In the parable of the farmer planting seeds, Jesus describes four groups of people and how they react to the message about God’s Kingdom (13:18-23). Without identifying anyone by name, can you tell us about someone you know who fits into one of those four categories?
LIFE APPLICATION. When Jesus talks about the four different kinds of landing spots for the seed, which represents the good news about the Kingdom of Heaven, he’s talking about different kinds of situations that either block God’s message or that enable us to embrace it. What do you think are some of the main reasons people today don’t seem to be interested in matters of faith or religion?
LIFE APPLICATION. Jesus uses two short illustrations to teach the idea that the Kingdom of Heaven is worth everything we could possibly ever accumulate in this lifetime. It’s like a treasure that a man finds in a field, so the man “rushes home to sell everything he owns so he’ll have enough money to buy the field and own the treasure” (13:44). And it’s like “an exquisite pearl that a merchant finds… He goes back home and sells everything he owns so he can buy it” (13:45-46). What do we sell to own a treasure like this?
LIFE APPLICATION. Jesus says “A prophet can get some respect just about everywhere he goes except at home” (13:57). Do you think that’s true of just about anyone who is successful or who is respected by a lot of people? If so, why do strangers give us the respect that our family and friends don’t?