Posted by: mattcolvin | November 27, 2011

Matthew 13:18-33 “The Delusion of Wealth”

First Monday in Advent: Matthew 13:18-33.

The purpose of parables is to conceal the truth from the multitude. The quotation from Isaiah is God’s explanation to His prophet about why his mission will be unsuccessful, because the people to which YHWH sends Isaiah in Is. 6:9-12 will persist in rejecting YHWH’s message “until the cities are laid waste and without inhabitants, etc.” (Isaiah 6:11)

Why does Jesus cite this depressing precedent? Because behind the disciples’ question, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” lies a mistaken assumption about the nature of Jesus’ coming. It is not only a joyful thing. t is also ominous and brings with it the threat of judgment. As a result, the disciples are called “blessed” because they have not persisted in the stupor of their generation. They are those who “hear the word and understand (συνιείς) it.”

This mixed situation, with both believers and unbelievers in Israel, is the subject of the parable of the wheat and tares. Not all Israel will believe. Note well: this is a parable that is first and foremost about Israel in Jesus’ day. It is intended to explain to the disciples why it is that their contemporaries are not accepting Jesus as the Messiah; why it is that He speaks to them in parables so that they will not understand.

There is still application to our day, however. Jesus says, of the seed sown among thorns (13:22) that “anxiety about this present age (my overtranslation of μέριμνα τοῦ αἰῶνος) and the deception of wealth (ἡ ἀπάτη τοῦ πλούτου) strangle the word and it becomes fruitless.”

This first phrase, literally “the anxiety of the aion,” is similar to another phrase found in Paul. In 1 Cor. 7:34, he says that “the married woman is concerned about (μερμνᾷ) the things of the word (τὰ τοῦ κόσμου)…” The word αἰών means “the age” and refers to the Jewish view of human history as being divided into two ages, “the present age” and “the age to come.” The present age is organized in terms of principles and structures that are temporary, so that “the schema of this world is passing away” (1 Cor. 7:31). Focusing on this present age and its organizational structures is a distraction that will cause you to be unfruitful for the kingdom.

The preeminent form (but not the only form) that this “schema” takes is expressed in the second phrase: “the deception of wealth.” This is usually rendered as “the deceitfulness of riches,” but I think my version is more accurate. It means that wealth in this age is a mirage. It is not real wealth at all. It is a mere decoy to keep your eyes off the real prize.

(None of this should be taken to mean that it is wrong to have money and use it to further the kingdom of Christ. That is exactly what Jesus and Paul recommend. The danger is in thinking of this temporary and illusory schema — wealth — as permanent or determinative.)

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