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Thursday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time. The reading is from Gospel of Matthew 13:10-17.

The Purpose of Parables – Matthew 13:10-15

The disciples approached him and said, “Why do you speak to them in parables?”

He said to them in reply, “Because knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted.

To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away.

This is why I speak to them in parables, because ‘they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.’

Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says:

‘You shall indeed hear but not understand
you shall indeed look but never see.
Gross is the heart of this people,
they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart and be converted,
and I heal them.’

The discourse in parables (Matthew 13:1-53) is the third great discourse of Jesus in Matthew and constitutes the second part of the third book of the gospel. Matthew follows the Marcan outline (Mark 4:1–35) but has only two of Mark’s parables, the five others being from Q and M.

In addition to the seven parables, the above discourse gives the reason why Jesus uses this type of speech.

Since a parable is figurative speech that demands reflection for understanding, only those who are prepared to explore its meaning can come to know it. To understand is a gift of God, granted to the disciples but not to the crowds.

  • He said to them in reply, “Because knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted. (Matthew 13:11)

In Semitic fashion, both the disciples’ understanding and the crowd’s obtuseness are attributed to God. The question of human responsibility for the obtuseness is not dealt with, although it is asserted in

  • This is why I speak to them in parables, because ‘they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.’ (Matthew 13:13)

As in Luke

  • Then his disciples asked him what the meaning of this parable might be. He answered, “Knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of God has been granted to you; but to the rest, they are made known through parables so that ‘they may look but not see, and hear but not understand.’ (Luke 8:9-10)

Mark too has “the mystery”

  • He answered them, “The mystery of the kingdom of God has been granted to you. But to those outside everything comes in parables,” (Mark 4:11)

The word is used in

  • that they might implore the mercy of the God of heaven in regard to this mystery, so that Daniel and his companions might not perish with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. (Daniel 2:18)
  • During the night the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision, and he blessed the God of heaven: (Daniel 2:19)
  • In the king’s presence Daniel made this reply: “The mystery about which the king has inquired, the wise men, enchanters, magicians, and diviners could not explain to the king. (Daniel 2:27)

and in the Qumran literature (1Qp Heb 7:8; 1QS 3:23; 1QM 3:9) to designate a divine plan or decree affecting the course of history that can be known only when revealed. Knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven means recognition that the kingdom has become present in the ministry of Jesus.

  • To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away. (Matthew 13:12)

In the New Testament use of this axiom of practical “wisdom” is seen in

  • “For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” (Matthew 25:29)
  • “To the one who has, more will be given; from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” (Mark 4:25)
  • “Take care, then, how you hear. To anyone who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he seems to have will be taken away.” (Luke 8:18)
  • ‘I tell you, to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” (Luke 19:26)

God gives further understanding to one who accepts the revealed mystery; from the one who does not, he will take it away (note the “theological passive,” more will be given, what he has will be taken away).

In this verse

  • This is why I speak to them in parables, because ‘they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.’ (Matthew 13:13)

Matthew softens his Marcan source, which states that Jesus speaks in parables so that the crowds may not understand

  • He answered them, “The mystery of the kingdom of God has been granted to you. But to those outside everything comes in parables, so that ‘they may look and see but not perceive, and hear and listen but not understand, in order that they may not be converted and be forgiven.’” (Mark 4:12)

and makes such speaking a punishment given because they have not accepted his previous clear teaching. However, his citation of Isaiah 6:9-10 in Matthew13:14 supports the harsher Marcan view.

The Privilege of Discipleship – Matthew 13:16-17

But blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear.

Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.

In the above two verses Jesus declares the blessedness of those who understand his teaching.

Unlike the unbelieving crowds, the disciples have seen that which the prophets and the righteous of the Old Testament longed to see without having their longing fulfilled.

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