Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Matthew 13:1-9;18-23

This passage occurs in the RCL "Pentecost"/"Ordinary"/"Proper" Season, Year A, most recently July 2020.  Since the two sections have similar vocabulary, I will focus my comments on one section, namely 18-23.

Summary:  What is this parable about:  The soil?  The seed?  In the parable, certain individuals endure hardship, survive temptation and finally bear fruit.  How is that going to happen?  How will they, to use the metaphor of the parable, have deep soil?  As Jesus says, the parable is about the sower, the sower who constantly comes to us again and again, sowing the seed that we might finally be at a point in our lives where the soil is deep, that we might repent, turn and be healed (13:15), that we will bear fruit.

Key words: 
παραβολή ("parable"; 3, 18)  Just a reminder:  This is Jesus first parable! (In Matthew's Gospel and therefore, the New Testament!)

σπειραντος ("the one who sows", participle of σπειρω; 18)  There is nothing distinct about this word, but it is worth pointing out that Jesus says the parable is about this, namely, the one who throws his seed, even into wasteful places!

καρπος ("grain"/"fruit"; 8, 23)  The first time through the parable, most translators translate the word as "grain" or a "crop."  Which is too bad because one misses the crucial connection to bearing fruit, one of the few metaphors that is consistent across the entire New Testament.  I love this image, because you can do so much with it:
* Fruit is not for the sake of the tree that produced it (our life is about our neighbor)
* Fruit often takes a season if not years to produce (patience)
* Fruit doesn't last long (our good works are needed every day)
* Fruit needs pollination (need a word outside of ourselves)
* Fruit needs the death of a flower...

καρδια ("heart"; 19)  Interestingly, this word never refers to the actually beating heart inside the body in the NT!  Hebrew and Greek map the whole heart-brain-feelings-thoughts a bit differently, but the basic point is that the heart here is not the Hallmark center, but the core of who we are, including our thoughts.

πονηρος ("evil"; 19)  Jesus here personifies evil.  A couple of thoughts.  First, it could be that Jesus here simply describes evil as "the evil" rather than the "evil one."  He may leave evil more abstract.  Second, it is also interesting and scary that the devil can engage with the human heart.  Third, it is haunting how evil is portrayed as multi-faceted:  a personified agent that works against us, the structural oppression in the world and the selfish desires of the human.  As Luther said, "the devil, the world and the sinful self." 
see also
ερχεται ("coming"; 19)  This word is a word we learn in our first few Greek lessons.  What I want to emphasize in this case is the tense:  present tense.  Furthermore, the tenses of the participles starting the sentence are also in the present tense.  This means all of the actions are on-going and concurrent:  the listening, the not comprehending and the coming of the evil one are all happening at the same time.  I had always imagined the coming of the evil one happened after the fact.  But Jesus' use of present participles (or Matthew's) suggests these are all happening at the same time.  Scary.

Small but interesting words:
σπειρος  ("seed"; multiple times; also see 13:38)  In Greek the word "seed" is actually a participle made into a noun, literally "The thing that is sown."  It is worth point out that in verse 38 the good seed are the sons of the kingdom (as opposed to the seed being the Word).   Jesus switches the metaphor, reminding us, that these are parables and not allegories.

παντος ("all"; 19)  The Greek here reads literally, "Everyone hears the word and does not understand it."  It is a little suggestion in the Greek that all hear, even though all do not understand.

ακουω ("hear"; multiple times)   Warning:  Overly pietist comment coming up:  Hearing the word is not sufficient.  In this parable hearing must move to understanding.

σκανδαλιζεται ("stumble"; 21)  This means "scandalize"; how does the word scandalize you?
απατη ("deception"; 22)  An interesting side note on this word.  It closely sounds like "agape" which Christian communion meals were often called.  2 Peter 2:13 plays on this a bit a condemns the "apate" at the communion meals.

Grammar Review:  Substantive participles
In Greek, you can make "substantive" participles very easily.  They are also easy to translate.
They follow the following pattern:  "The one who does X/Y/Z"  In English, this idea is accomplished with a relative pronoun clause:  I like the woman who married me.  Greek also has relative clauses, but the substantive participle is common.  Here we have a nice one:
ο τον λογον ακουων
Step one:  Identify it as a substantive participle.  How?  Well, you have a "the" (ie a definite article:  ο) and you only have one, otherwise it would be an adjectival.
Step two:  Get the participle:  ακουων
Step three:  Translate the basics under the formula "the one who does X":  The one who hears
Step four:  Correct for voice and tense:  Don't have to hear.
Step five:  translate the other stuff:  "The one who hears the word."  Greek will often sandwich important stuff for the substantive participle clause in between the article and the participle

Give it a try, with the last five words of verse 19...

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