This is about the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus contrasts its nature with that of human kingdoms. The key is His quotation (v. 35) from Psalms 78:1-4. The context of the psalm is a reminder that the language of parables was well established from ancient times, and the symbols were hardly foreign to the Hebrew people. It was necessary to teach parabolic language because that was the nature of the Hebrew language, and of divine revelation itself. The divine character of God cannot be shared in direct descriptive terms. Hebrew language is inherently indicative, not descriptive.
The gospel is not addressed to the mind; it is not a question of knowing and deciding. It cannot be simplified and pre-digested. The gospel is not meant to be persuasive by reason or emotion. Rather, it calls to the heart alone. If the heart does not respond, then the gospel has not been received. Dead spirits are not raised to eternal life through the mind, but through the heart. There is no Kingdom of Heaven outside the hearts of redeemed people.
The heart can grasp parables directly; it’s the language of the heart. Symbolic logic is the logic of the heart. For the disciples, it was a matter of reawakening the symbolic thought process already native to their culture. The mind is equipped to handle such things under the guidance of the heart. It is a lore of understanding that can be taught, and as the psalm indicates, it is a dereliction of our covenant duty to God if we don’t pass on this lore to future generations.
The Parable of the Tares presents the basic problem we all face as covenant people: the presence of folks who are not heart-led. That’s because their hearts were hardened, as the previous lesson indicates. Such people are, by definition, children of the Devil. For us today, it’s more a matter of no heart-mind connection at all, and no lore or legacy of thinking in parables.
Scholars believe “tares” (Greek zizanion) indicates darnel, a false wheat. It looks very much like edible wheat, and only experienced farmers can detect the difference. However, once the two ripen, wheat is yellow-brown, while darnel is black. Further, if you eat darnel, the symptoms are like drunkenness and it’s often fatal. But once it manifests its true color, even children can be taught to pick it out before the harvest actually begins.
Every covenant community will always have its tares. If you yank them out before God’s judgment comes, there’s no way you can keep from harming the wheat. Let them bear their nasty fruit so they can be known. The Law Covenants are designed to accommodate this mixed population, and only the most egregious violations warrant harsh actions. For the most part, a covenant community thrives on the tolerance of people who are simply going through the motions.
Then Jesus offers two more parables regarding how this works. The Parable of the Mustard Seed is cited often these days. The gospel truth may start from a very small seed, like mustard seed, but the life within that message is capable of phenomenal growth into a very large community. This is not to crack the whip and make you get to work, but to show you that growth is in the nature of the Kingdom. Expect it grow, and expect it to draw folks who don’t belong.
The Parable of the Leaven teaches us that living the gospel truth also changes the situation. I believe it’s a mistake to think of this is merely evangelism, as is commonly taught in many churches today. The context is the power of parables and the heart-led way, and how that changes the situation. So not only does the Kingdom grow larger, but it changes the atmosphere. When we invest ourselves fully in the heart-led way of truth, of living according to the divine moral character of God, everything around us will come to life and fill out with the joy the Spirit. This is what makes a covenant community the kind of place that changes people.
There’s a certain amount of tolerance we can afford in our covenant community of faith. The people most likely to be changed by the gospel are those we allow to participate who aren’t yet bearing fruit. There’s really no way to keep them out, so we must learn to grow the Kingdom according to its true nature.