Lectionary Reflection—23 July 2017

Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like someone who planted good seed in his field. 25While people were sleeping, an enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat and went away. 26When the stalks sprouted and bore grain, then the weeds also appeared.

27“The servants of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Master, didn’t you plant good seed in your field? Then how is it that it has weeds?’

28“ ‘An enemy has done this,’ he answered.

“The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us to go and gather them?’

29“But the landowner said, ‘No, because if you gather the weeds, you’ll pull up the wheat along with them. 30Let both grow side by side until the harvest. And at harvesttime I’ll say to the harvesters, “First gather the weeds and tie them together in bundles to be burned. But bring the wheat into my barn.” ’ ”

36Jesus left the crowds and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”

37Jesus replied, “The one who plants the good seed is the Human One.1 38The field is the world. And the good seeds are the followers of the kingdom. But the weeds are the followers of the evil one. 39The enemy who planted them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the present age. The harvesters are the angels. 40Just as people gather weeds and burn them in the fire, so it will be at the end of the present age. 41The Human One will send his angels, and they’ll gather out of his kingdom all things that cause people to fall away and all people who sin. 42He’ll throw them into a burning furnace. People there will be weeping and grinding their teeth. 43Then the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s kingdom. Those who have ears should hear.”

The Sower
Norman, OK
There’s a lot going on in this passage. First, Jesus mentions “the Human One” or, if your prefer, the “Son of Man.” The “Human One,” understood quite naturally to his original audience, refers to Daniel 7 and the story of a “human one” taking his place at Yahweh’s right hand to judge the monsters who opposed God’s people. We’re told that, “Rule, glory, and kingship were given to [the Human One]; all peoples, nations, and languages will serve him. His rule is an everlasting one—it will never pass away!—his kingship is indestructible” (Daniel 7.1-14).2 As we know, Jesus often referred to himself as the “Human One” (see here for example), so he’s saying he’s the one “who plants the good seed.”

Next, Jesus said “The field is the world” (v. 38). The Greek word used here for “world” is κόσμος (kósmos). It’s where we get our words “cosmos” and “cosmetics.” It literally means “something ordered,” an “ordered system”. It can mean the world, universe; worldly affairs; the inhabitants of the world; adornment. And it’s right here that, if we only use definitions of words and not the context in which those words appear, we can misinterpret their meaning. So the word κόσμος means an “ordered system” and can rightly be translated as “world” or “creation” or “cosmos” or even “worldly affairs.” But we want to ask, “What did Jesus mean by ‘ordered system’? What “ordered system” was Jesus referring to?” Quite naturally, since Jesus was the one “who plants the good seed,” the “field” would be the “ordered system” of Old Covenantal Judaism. It’s the Old Covenantal “world” into which Jesus came—his own people and tradition (cf. John 1.11; Acts 7; etc.).

Jesus then states that the “good seeds” are those who follow “the kingdom” while the “weeds” are those who refuse to accept this reality. That is, the “good seeds” are those people that heard the message about the kingdom Jesus talked about and trusted in him. The “weeds” were the people who refused to believe what Jesus was saying; they preferred the way things were and the tradition of their ancestors (see Matthew 15:1-9; 23:13-30; Mark 7:1-22). In fact, Jesus claimed the tradition and his contemporaries had become so corrupt that the “evil one” was their father (John 8).

Next, Jesus states that the harvesters are the “angels.” The Greek word for “angels” is ἄγγελοί (ággelos) and means “messenger” or “delegate.” It can be a human messenger or a celestial messenger. That’s an important distinction because in another place, we read:

Jesus traveled among all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, announcing the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness. 36Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them because they were troubled and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37Then he said to his disciples, “The size of the harvest is bigger than you can imagine, but there are few workers. 38Therefore, plead with the Lord of the harvest to send out workers for his harvest” (Matthew 9.35ff; cf. Matthew 24.31).

We see in this passage a parallel to our Lectionary reading. Jesus tells the disciples that the “harvest is bigger” than they can imagine and they should pray for more workers. But notice that the workers here are clearly humans and not celestial messengers. I submit it’s the same in almost every passage that ἄγγελοί is used.

Lastly, as we saw last week, the stories Jesus tells are directed to his contemporaries. And this weeks Lectionary reading makes this abundantly clear. When the disciples ask Jesus to explain the story, he tells them that “the harvest is the end of the present age” (vv. 39-40). A lot of time and ink has been spent to show that Jesus couldn’t mean what he actually said here. In fact, some people have insisted that the text has been tampered with because the Bible they use, the “Authorized” King James Version, states that “the harvest is the end of the world.” So which is it?

The Greek word translated as “age” by the CEB and “world” by the KJV is αἰώνιος (aiṓnios) and means “age-long.” It’s based on the Greek word for age—αἰών (aiṓn). HELPS Word-studies states that αἰών means “properly, an age (era, ‘time-span’), characterized by a specific quality (type of existence).” This shows us that, contrary to what the KJV and its adherents would have us believe, Jesus wasn’t talking about the “end of the world.” He was talking about the “end of the age” and that age was “characterized by a specific type of existence.” That “specific existence”, as we saw above, was the Old Covenantal age characterized by the Jewish religious system.

Now let’s put all of this together. When the disciples asked Jesus to explain the story about the “weeds in the field”, he told them that he, himself, was the one planting the good seed. He tells them that the “world” is the world of Old Covenant Judaism that he was born into. He says that the people who follow him are the “good seeds” and those who don’t are the “weeds.” Finally, Jesus said that the “harvest” would be at the end of the Old Covenantal age characterized by the Jewish religious system. There’s no doubt, then, that this story was about the then coming judgement upon ancient Israel.3 The “messengers” then were none other than the disciples and those who followed their example—Stephen, Barnabas, Paul, etc.4

In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC

1. Or “Son of Man”, also in verse 41.

2. If at all possible, every time you see or hear that phrase—“the Human One” or “the Son of Man”—remember Daniel 7. It was foundational to Jesus’ understanding of himself and his vocation.

3. For a more detailed study of this subject, see my series, New Testament Eschatology.

4. An interesting aside, Josephus, in his telling of the story about the war between the Jews and the Romans, speaks about angelic beings in the clouds fighting a war (War: Book 6; Chapter 5, Section 3).


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