Shovels in the Ground (Matthew 13:34-35)

Photo by Alejandro Alas on Unsplash

Having written how Jesus told the crowd the parable of the sower, the  parable of the  weeds, the parable of the mustard seed and the parable of the leaven, Matthew interjects, “Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. So 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.””  

Psalm 78 (a maskil of Asaph) opens with, “O my people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter hidden things, things from of old— what we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done. He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our forefathers to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands. They would not be like their forefathers— a stubborn and rebellious generation, whose hearts were not loyal to God, whose spirits were not faithful to him.” 

The parables Jesus is teaching the crowds are things hidden since the creation of the world, but all the same they were clearly revealed in the Word of God to Israel. Israel was not kept in the dark about the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, His power and the wonders He had done. They were not kept from knowing His statutes and law. Yet the people Christ encountered in His day lived as though they were. They seemed oblivious to all the Scripture testified about how the kingdom of heaven was spread, how it grew or the immense value of it. Subsequently, they did not live as though God was doing something miraculous through them. They lived as though they were regular people going about regular lives, even though the Word clearly taught that they were not!  They had been chosen of God to be a light to all nations (Isa 42:6, 49:6, 51:4, 60:3). They had been chosen of God to shine forth over all the earth as the sun shines to all peoples (Ps 50:2, Isa 62:1). Yet they went about their lives as though all that mattered was their own happiness, even though God had clearly expected them to produce growth and fruitfulness to His glory (Ps 80:8, Isa 5:2, 61:11, Jer 2:21, Ezk 16:7). 

Consequently, Jesus speaks to them in parables. On account of their deafness to His direct Word, it becomes as He had just told them, “Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.”  The direct teaching of God to them is reduced to allusion to ordinary life. No doubt it was His hope that they would be so intrigued by the parables that they would muse over them to the point of awareness, because they certainly had not thought through His explicit teaching. 

It is a sobering lesson to those who are reading Matthew’s Gospel, and as clear a call to obedience as any commandment. We are to be spreading the kingdom of heaven, not merely reading about it!

It’s never easy to transcend the gravity of culture. The church, made up of nothing but ordinary people, always reflects the values of Canaan about as much as the law of Israel.

Donald McCullough

APPLICATION: Intentionality

At a certain point the decision to act for God’s glory must be taken. The thinking about it, the praying about it and the planning in our minds must bear the fruit of action, or we willing waste all of it.