Where do we find the parables related to our time? We find them exclusively in chapters 13, 24 and 25 of the Gospel of Matthew (and in the parallel passages of other Gospels, if any). What are they?
- The Sower (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43)
- The dragnet (Mathew 13:47-50)
- The slave (Matthew 24:45-51)
- The ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13)
- The talents (Matthew 25:14-30)
- The sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46)
But first, let us analyze other illustrations which we might call "minor", so to speak, which nevertheless appear in the same context as those enumerated above concerning the "end of the system of things": the mustard grain, the leaven, the hidden treasure, the traveling merchant, the lightning, the fig tree, the days of Noah, the thief. These do not have a precise prophetic application, but they generally indicate a context, an environment, a tendency and lead to reflection; with them, Jesus taught, he had something to say about the last days.
The illustrations of the grain of mustard and the leaven (Matthew 13:31-33) simply indicate the growth of the people of God and remind us of this prophecy: "The little one will become a thousand and the small one a mighty nation. I myself, Jehovah, will speed it up in its own time” (Isaiah 60:22). We can not, and we must not, interpret the details of the illustrations. Questions such as "Who is the man? What are birds and branches? Who is the woman? What is flour?” are not appropriate for a very simple reason: interpretations belong to God (Genesis 40:8; Daniel 2:28). We must adhere to this principle: "The things concealed belong to Jehovah our God, but the things revealed belong to us … so that we may carry out” (Deuteronomy 29:29). If Jesus did not make specific applications, or did not give an explanation, we do not have to do it either.
We could ask ourselves this question: "If the illustrations of the grain of mustard and the leaven are basically the same, why did Jesus illustrate the point in two different ways?" The answer is in these words: "With many illustrations of that sort he spoke the word to them, to the extent that they were able to listen” (Mark 4:33). Jesus wanted to be understood by many people, so in his teaching art he sometimes adapted the illustrations to his audience. Undoubtedly, the farmers could have grasped the illustration of the grain of mustard and the housewives that of the leaven.
The illustrations of the hidden treasure and the traveling merchant (Matthew 13:44-46) emphasize how precious is the truth of the Kingdom and the sacrifices a person is willing to make when he has found it. Nothing more.
The illustration of the lightning deserves an in-depth reflection (Matthew 24:27). In the context, we understand that Jesus warned his disciples to guard against "false Christs and false prophets" (Matthew 24:23-28). And then, how would the Christian realize the "presence of the son of man?" With the illustration of the lightning, Jesus points out that for a God's sincere worshiper, his presence would have been evident in the right time and it was not necessary to make any assumption; and he emphasizes the point by also referring to the instinct of the eagle to feel and find a corpse for nourishment. We remain vigilant but serene and confident, and in time we could understand everything that is about to happen and feel intimately that the "deliverance is getting near" (Luke 21:28).
With the fig tree (Matthew 24:32, 33), Jesus wants to encourage his servants to observe world events and compare them with what we know from the Scriptures about what is to happen. This implies that we must profoundly study "the prophetic word", even if we do not understand it perfectly; in due time we shall have the necessary knowledge (2 Peter 1:19). To illustrate, our task is now to gather and know all the pieces of the puzzle: the day will come when we can assemble them correctly. But if we do not study, what will we understand? The fig tree completes the illustration of the lightning. Who will clearly, without doubt and autonomously, perceive the presence of Christ as a flash of lightning? He who has studied and made his own "all these things" of which Jesus spoke to us.
The illustrations of the days of Noah and the thief (Matthew 24:36-44) simply point out that not knowing beforehand the day of Christ's coming, we must remain ready and vigilant without being distracted by everyday things of life.
In the next article we will then analyze the main parables listed above.
Acalia & Marta