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29 October. Matthew chapters 13-14
In the first of these chapters, Jesus uses several stories (parables) to try and explain what he called the “kingdom of heaven” – the new way of life with God that he came to bring. Even his closest disciples did not understand these stories at first telling, so he had to explain the meaning of them. The parables are intended to be mulled over by the hearer until they make sense in their own situation. We are expected to ask ourselves, for example, “am I like the seed that is growing among thorns, letting the cares of the world choke the growth of God’s life in me?” (13:22) or “when the time of judgement comes, will I look more like a useful stalk of wheat or a useless weed in God’s kingdom? (12:40-43).
Not all the parables were about farming: others would have made sense to housewives, merchants or fishermen. Jesus used as many ways as he could to explain his teaching to people from all walks of life. Yet, in the last section of chapter 13, the very people who knew him best – his immediate family and other families in his home village of Nazareth – rejected him, for they thought they knew him too well. Instead of being the famous preacher who walked into town one day and started to work miracles, he was to them just Joseph and Mary’s son, who had walked out on his family and now returned. Unlike the prodigal son of one of his own parables, he was not welcomed back with open arms but with suspicion.
On top of that, in chapter 14 Jesus hears that his relative, the prophet John (“the Baptist”), had been killed by King Herod who now feared that Jesus was the same prophet come back to life. Clearly Herod had not been paying attention, for John had baptised Jesus, and their approaches to proclaiming the Kingdom of Heaven were quite different. So it is not surprising that Jesus went away by himself, badly in need of solitude to deal with this bereavement, the rejection by his own neighbours and the implied threat to his life. Yet that is just when he found himself surrounded by crowds desperate for more of his teaching. Their physical need for food prompted perhaps Jesus’ best known miracle, the feeding of five thousand men and their families with a small quantity of bread and fish. Other people’s needs always came first for him, however great his own. Only with that attitude, made possible by the Spirit of God within him, could he face the ultimate test of the Cross.
Going back to Jesus’ family, perhaps the experience of meeting the needs of the crowds with both words and food persuaded him that his ministry to others was more important than his family, for at the end of this chapter he declares in response to the statement that they are wanting to see him, “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” From that declaration we get the idea that all of us who put our trust in Jesus can call ourselves sisters and brothers – not only of each other, but of Jesus the Son of God, thereby claiming the status of children of God for ourselves. But it is only Jesus’ self-sacrifice that makes that possible.