I find this to be a fascinating chapter in the story of Jesus, as it is here that we see him adding a new element to his life and ministry: the use of parables. Parables are quite intriguing, as there is not a readily identifiable modern equivalent.
When I teach, I often say that ancient parables are similar to modern jokes. Not in their use of humour, but rather, in that they assume the audience knows the points of reference in the story, they need to be heard/read in their entirety, and the closing line/scene is the “catch” or main point of the parable.
In this section of Matthew’s persuasional biography of Jesus, we see him tell his readers about five parables that Jesus used. All five were creative pictures of the kingdom of heaven/God, and would have been readily understood in their original context.
The first one (13:1-9) is likely the most important, in that it is a parable that described how parables work. Be sure to read it for yourself, but in essence, Jesus was telling his listeners that how they respond to his teaching (the seed/word) determines their spiritual life and health. If they listen to Jesus’ teaching and live accordingly, they will be part of the kingdom and will experience holistic transformation and mission. But if they hear Jesus’s teaching and do not put it into practice, regardless of the reason, they will not experience transformation and mission (ie the “kingdom”).
The same is true today. Our response to the person and teaching of Jesus is directly connected to our experience of spiritual transformation. Listening to Jesus might result in a temporary spiritual high, but living like Jesus taught his followers to live will result in deep transformation in and through us. That is what Jesus was talking about when he frequently said, “The kingdom of heaven is like …”.
The question for me and for you, then, is are we willing to put Jesus’ teachings (and by extension, the truths and principles of scripture) into action? I hope the answer is yes!