Lectionary Year A
July 28, 2002
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

Step IV: Context

A. Primitive Christianity

(JFC) The basilei,a tw/n ouvranw/n designation occurs only in Matthew, while the designation, elsewhere, refers "chiefly" to an "eschatological concept, beginning to occur in the prophets elaborated in apocalyptic passages . . . and taught by Jesus. The expressions vary; b... tou/ Qeou/ and tw/n ouvranw/n have essentially the same mng., since the Jews used ouvrano/j (-oi,) as well as other circumlocutions for Qeo/j (cf. Mt10:23f . . .); the latter term may also emphasize the heavenly origin and nature of the kngdm." So states Arndt's and Gingrich's Lexicon of the NT. The Gospel parallels, including Thomas', read similarly, indicating the material was early accepted as genuine and popular. Matthew also quotes Jesus' saying that this kingdom of heaven is "at hand", in 3:2 and 4:7. Heaven also completes the totality of what will, in the end times, pass away, like in 5:18, 11:25 and 24:35. These infant believers in Christ as the Savior also saw heaven as God's residence, as it is in Matthew 5:12, the Lord's Prayer in Matthew 6:9, 10:32 and from where the Spirit came at Jesus' baptism in John 1:32.

B. Old Testament and Judaism

(JFC) Obadiah (21) concludes with a prophesy that the coming kingdom will be the Lord's. A few Psalms refer to a kingdom that must be God's, too, e.g., 103:19 and 145:12f. In Daniel 4:12 and 21 a dreamed of tree gives shade and protection to animals and nesting branches for birds, while Daniel 4:18 tells of King Nebuchadnezer's compliments of Belteshazar as one who might interpret his dream "since all the wise men of my kingdom are unable to tell me the interpretation. You are able, however, for you are endowed with the spirit of the holy gods." Vassal nations and those from afar off will also be gathered there, according to Anchor Bible. These passages inform us that these images were current from of old, Matthew 13:32 and 43. Genesis 2:9a declares that it is God who makes trees to grow, including the mustard seeded tree? Perhaps so, or, how else would such a miraculous maturity happen? And, in Ezekiel 17:23 and 31:6, we get the picture of an astoundingly healthy tree with branches in which birds can build nests. Daniel (3:6 and 17) depicts a fiery/burning furnace, as does Matthew 13:50, as a penalty for wickedness/evil/unrighteousness. Also, Daniel 4:7-10 and 17-19 hope for a universal kingdom. Schweizer writes, "According to Ecclesiasticus 39:3, the teacher of the Law is one who 'explores the hidden meaning of cryptic discourses and occupies himself with the riddles of parables'. . . The true teacher of the Law has learned from Jesus to see both the old and the new together (cf. Wis. 8:8) - God's Law and its new interpretation proclaimed by Jesus and realized in all that He does."

C. Hellenistic World

(JFC) Surely these philosophers would enjoy discussing the symbolical vocabulary Jesus uses to describe what the kingdom of heaven is like. Their fascination with the value of reason's being expressed in relatively few words that grow into large truths and formulae by which they claimed to get handles on large concepts such as truth, beauty and enlightenment might have been found in Matthew 13's use of the image of seeds sown, etc. Of course, these sometimes called "elitists" could appreciate the wealth of treasures and pearls mentioned here, too. Then, too, their contempt with the materials' being valued more than the intangible could provoke more dialogue, as well. The final verse of our lection could occupy the discussions of these Greek speakers for a long time.

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