Parables and Travels: Matthew 13
Matthew 13 carries the story of Jesus continuing to teach in parables. He starts off teaching by the sea as large crowds gather and listen. Chrysostom makes the observation that Jesus, by sitting by the sea, ensured that no one would be behind Him. Chrysostom sees this as compassionate, with the goal that no one could fail to see Jesus. It is a good example of a practical detail that we would do well to think about.
From there, Matthew records the parables that Jesus taught. This chapter contains the parables of the sower, the tares among the wheat, the mustard seed, the treasure in the field, the pearl of great value, and the dragnet for fishing. Most of these are prefaced with the intro “The kingdom of heaven is like…” and then the parable examines the value of the kingdom. Another common facet of these parables emphasizes the response to hearing the news of the kingdom.
The chapter ends with the return of Jesus to Nazareth. To be specific, the text simply reads as “hometown” or “homeland,” but we understand that to be Nazareth. That it could be Bethlehem or another portion of Galilee is possible, given that he teaches in the synagogue. We tragically see that the residents are more fixed on what they already knew: Jesus grew up there! than on what He had to say.
Focus with me, for a moment, on two verses. Matthew 13:9 and Matthew 13:43 have a common refrain: “He who has an ear, let him hear.” Jesus is challenging His listeners to actually pay attention, not just let the words pass dully across their ears.
This is not the only time that sentiment is expressed in the Bible. Each of Jesus’ messages to the churches in Revelation conclude with the same sentiment. The commandment is not about physical ears, though. It’s about spiritual ears. It is both a challenge to the listeners and a rebuke to those who claim a high level of spiritual maturity in the face of Jesus’ preaching.
If they have ears, they will listen to Him. If they do not, well, they are mistaken in their claims of grandeur.
Pulling this forward to our time, what do we do? First, of course, we have to read the text in the first place. After all, those who do not read are no better off than those who will not. And perhaps, willful ignorance deserves a harsher judgment as well.
Second, though, we should keep in mind that it is not a difficult matter to determine who it is that hears God speak. Those who hear are those who obey, not those who claim to hear.
What does that mean for us?
Primarily, that our spiritual hearing can be measured by our obeying the word of God. That is, if we do not love our neighbors or do not obey the Great Commission (as examples), then we cannot claim to be hearing well. Which means that we should be very cautious how we teach if we do not hear well enough to obey.
The next aspect deals with our discernment of those who would teach and speak of God. Both in our lives and in the wider world, the temptation is to give great credence to those with flowery words or unique insights. Yet the Lord Jesus tells us that the one who has ears to hear is the one who hears. If someone is listening well enough to obey, then they are listening well enough to teach.
Evidence of growth in Christ matters and we who are listening should, nay, must, examine the practices teachers. If they are not hearing, then we must not listen.
Do, and listen to those who do.
Some people take Matthew 13:58 as evidence that people’s faith is necessary for God to act. After all, it states that Jesus did not do miracles there because of their lack of faith. That means He couldn’t, right?
On the other hand, that could be taken as evidence that God is in control of what He does, and there is no commanding Him. Whether or not Jesus does any healing is His choice, and at times He may choose based on people’s trust.
And then, there’s one more possibility. If you review the miraculous events of the Gospels, how often does Jesus heal without the request of the one in need? It is a rare event—I cannot find one, myself. Jesus heals in response to the requests of His people. Perhaps the people of Nazareth were more convinced Jesus was mainly a good, moral, carpenter’s son than they He was the Son of God. They couldn’t open their eyes to the larger reality in front of them.