Monday, April 13, 2015

The flow of the parables and the parable of the householder

 One of the things about parables as a teaching device is that they don’t usually match doctrine in every respect.  Recently while reading Matthew 13, which contains a number of Christ’s parables, I realized that those parables build on each other in order to communicate truths more accurately to make up the deficiencies of earlier parables.

The parable of the sower does a great job of communicating the obstacles faced by a person’s heart in trying to receive and endure in the Word, and it conveys very well how the Word can cause people to grow and bring forth fruit with amazing abundance.  But it doesn’t well communicate the penalty for those who don’t grow.  So, the parable of the wheat and the tares is needed.

Neither the parable of the sower or the parable of the wheat and tares adequately conveys the scale of the growth of the Lord’s kingdom like it does the growth of individuals, so the parable of the mustard seed is needed.  It shows how startlingly the kingdom becomes “the greatest of herbs,” even showing how angels themselves (represented as birds) are attracted to it and prefer to dwell in the branches of it.

And none of what goes before conveys the effect the church has on the surrounding world, leavening it and raising the whole, so the parable of the leaven is needed.

And then the parables of the man finding the treasure in the field and the merchant seeking goodly pearls convey truths about how people come into the kingdom of God, some stumbling upon it by accident, and some seeking deliberately until they find it.

But this would be incomplete without a parable of the net gathering of every kind, since that shows how the church tries to draw everyone into it and tries to be as inclusive as possible, keeping in mind that someday there will still be the final judgment when the evil will be cast out and the righteous saved.  (In essence, just because we’re drawn into the net doesn’t mean we are good.  We need conversion if we are to be saved ultimately.)

Finally, the Savior ends with a parable of the householder, one we don’t give much attention to, but which can be encouraging as we strive to be disciples of Christ over a lifetime:

51 Jesus saith unto them, Have ye understood all these things? They say unto him, Yea, Lord.
52 Then said he unto them, Therefore every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old. (Matthew 13:51-52)

The helpfulness of this parable is not immediately obvious, so it will help to ask questions about it and examine how the meaning might be different if alternate words were used.

Every scribe – If it said “every farmer,” we’d get a different idea of what this could mean. Because Jesus said “scribe” though, we see He is referring to people in the kingdom of God who are intent on studying the scriptures and learning their meaning and, of course, practicing what they learn.  These aren’t the apostate scribes of Judiasm of Christ’s time; these are converted individuals.

which is instructed – If it said “which is teaching,” we would get a totally different idea.  But keeping the focus on being instructed shows us that as part of the kingdom, we are to be taught and we are to learn.  I believe we are to infer that the instruction comes by the Spirit, and it can continue throughout life.  Also, the footnote for this says “which has become a disciple in,” so we might read the whole as “every scribe which has become a disciple in the kingdom of God…”

like unto a man which is an householder – If the man were a merchant he might be trading, or might be in a place of business instead of at home.  Talking about a householder conveys the idea that the man is at home and feels comfortable there, just as the spiritual man feels comfortable in the kingdom of God and considers it his portion and he has a rightful place there.

Which bringeth forth out of his treasure – How would the meaning change if the householder hides his treasure instead of bringing it out?  The treasure would not be very useful then.  What is the treasure of the church that is brought out?  I think it is the doctrines of the gospel and the Restoration.  When is it brought out?  Ideally when it is needed.

treasure both new and old – What is the new and old treasures?  The new treasures are the new things we learn along the way and the old treasures are the basic gospel principles that brought us conversion in the first place.  Note that both the old and new are to be treasured and used.  This is why we should not turn up our noses at principles we’ve heard about many times.  They are still treasures.  They are no less precious for all our long acquaintance with them.  We need only consider how our lives and faith would be poorer without them to realize their worth.

Again, the parable of the householder describes how we endure to the end as disciples—keep learning, keep being instructed, and how we will have old basic principles reinforced in our lives and be taught new things as well.   This perfectly describes what I have seen in my life.  I find the same basic principles reinforced by my experiences and new things taught too.   And of course we should also expect the church instruction to repeat things as well, for which I am grateful.   How sad it would be if we were only taught about repentance once and just expected to remember with no repetition!