24Jesus told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
27"The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
28"‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
"The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
29"‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. 30Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’"
31He told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches."
33He told them still another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough."
34Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; He did not say anything to them without using a parable. 35So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet:
"I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world."
36Then He left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to Him and said, "Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field."
37He answered, "The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
40"As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will weed out of His kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.
Here we continue where we left off last month with the study of these parables. As I said in the last issue, I believe that the meanings of the three parables in this section are similar, and that a hint of this is given by the structure of this section. First, Jesus tells the parable of the wheat and the tares (or weeds, as the NIV translates). Then, two more parables are told: the parable of the mustard seed, and the parable of the leaven (or yeast, as the NIV translates). Next, the interpretation of the parable of the wheat and the tares is given. So, the telling of the second and third parables in this section is bracketed by the telling of the first parable and its interpretation. This implies, I believe, that the interpretation of the parable of the wheat and the tares guides us in the interpretation of the other two parables.
The interpretation of the parable of the wheat and the tares is given by Jesus, and so the meaning of that parable is not in doubt. That parable depicts that the children of God coexist in this world with the wicked until the end of the age, when the Lord will separate them. Likewise, the other two parables depict the coexistence of God’s people and the wicked, even within the church.
"He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches’" (vss. 31-32). Concerning this parable, most commentators agree that the mustard seed plant depicts the church and its phenomenal growth from very small beginnings. Some commentators stop there, and see the parable as having strictly a positive message. However, others (myself included) see the birds as a corrupting influence that invades (as it were) the church from the outside. In the first parable of chapter 13, the parable of the sower, recall that when the sower scattered seed on the path, birds came and ate it up. According to Jesus’ own interpretation of the parable, the birds depicted the evil one, who came and snatched away what was sown in the heart (see 13:4,19). So, in the parable of the mustard seed, once again, in my opinion, the birds have a negative interpretation: a corrupting influence that invades the church. We have then, according to this interpretation, a depiction of the coexistence of the righteous and the wicked, just like in the parable of the wheat and the tares. This time though, this coexistence takes place within the church. Throughout the history of the church, sadly, we have seen much evidence of such a corrupting influence. In the name of the Christian church, many evil deeds have been done, and are being done. Any student of history is well aware of this, as are those who have read the newspaper recently, and so I will not enumerate the evil deeds here.
The next parable is similar: "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough" (vs. 33). This parable describes yeast permeating through a large amount of dough. Some commentators interpret the yeast as being the church’s influence in the world. I would interpret it in the opposite way: the yeast depicts the world’s influence in the church. Yeast (or leaven) is used as a symbol many times in the Bible; nearly always it symbolizes some sort of evil. "Leaven appears in Scripture about thirty-five times, and in virtually every passage, its meaning seems to be unmistakably corruption in some form; thus, there seems no valid reason why we should take the symbol as found in this one verse and make it stand for something exactly contrary" [Thomas, 199]. Jesus Himself, elsewhere in the Book of Matthew, uses yeast as a negative symbol: "‘Be careful,’ Jesus said, ‘Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees’" (Matt. 16:6).
An equally compelling reason for interpreting yeast as being a corrupting influence in this parable is that such an interpretation fits the context. Again we have a depiction of the wicked living among the righteous. Here, I believe, the dough represents the church, and the yeast represents the ungodly, internally within the church, corrupting it. "The outward, visible development of Christendom, would be permeated by a form of impurity, gradually spreading until all of it was affected" [Thomas, 201]. This parable is a variation on the previous parable. The birds (the corrupting influence) entered the tree (the church) from the outside and corrupted it. Here, the yeast corrupts from within. Again, I do not think I need to validate this interpretation by reciting the evils that have been perpetrated in the name of Christendom. Sadly, they are far too prevalent and well known.