The connection of the parables.
Mark has the Lord recite three parables; all three have as their subject the laws according to which the kingdom of heaven is formed, develops and expands, their pictorial form is the same – namely, in all of them the development and the growth of the seed is described – and finally they are also held together by the progress of interest: the fragmentation and distribution of interest in the first parable gives way to the simplified view in the second, until in the third attention is brought back to one point. In the first, the fate that the seed of the divine Word finds according to the determinacy of the soil is described; in the second, the freedom and security with which the divine seed develops in history is described – with the kingdom of heaven, it is like a man who throws seeds into the earth; and he sleeps and rises at night and during the day and the seed sprouts and grows, he himself does not know how; for the earth itself makes it grow, first the green seed, then the ears, then the fruit in the ears; but when it is ripe, then it sends forth to harvest – in the third parable, finally, the kingdom of heaven appears like the mustard seed, which the smallest of all seeds develops into a mighty plant.
There is coherence!
Luke had used the parable of the sower as the image of the “true friends of the good cause” and placed it between the description of the good women and the word of Jesus about his spiritual relatives. Only later (C. 13, 18-21.), when Jesus justifies himself because of a Sabbath healing, thus on an occasion that could not have been chosen more unhappily, he gives the parable of the mustard seed and – of the leaven as a continuation of Jesus’ speech of denial. But where did he get the latter? Why does he not give the parable of the quiet development of the seed? He did not understand this one, at least it did not seem significant enough to him and without a sharp point, but in order to give two parables – he was still so dependent on Mark that he wanted to give two – he formed the counterpart to the parable of the mustard seed: the parable of the leaven.
When Matthew gives the parable of the tares after the interpretation of the parable of the sower and the parable of the mustard seed after the parable of the tares, he does not fail to open Luke’s scripture and copy the parable of the leaven. So he does not have the parable of the field that bears fruit of its own accord while the Lord sleeps? “How came he to omit it, if it is really because he used the writing of Mark? *) Well, it will be found, if we only search properly, since Matthew otherwise does not like to waste the treasures of his predecessors, and prefers to show them to us twice, or even more often, before he suppresses them. But does not the parable of the sower and the grain of mustard really stand between the parable of the sower and the grain of mustard, that is, in the same place where it stands in the script of Matthew, the parable of the field, of the Lord who sleeps there, while the fate of his field and of the sown seed is decided, by the same Lord who has the yield gathered in at the time of the harvest? Indeed! Only Matthew has woven the idea of the separation of the pure grain and the burning of the unfit, the idea which he himself first borrowed from Luke (C. 3, 17.), in a new form into that parable: while the Lord of the field sleeps, the evil enemy sows weeds among the grain, and at the time of harvest both are separated and the weeds are burned.
*) Saunier, op. cit. p. 73.
In the same place where Mark sees the concluding remark that Jesus spoke in this way to the people in parables, i.e. after the parable of the mustard seed (and leaven) Matthew gives the same remark and sends the Lord home. Here begins a new scene – we can immediately say: the repetition of the previous scene: the disciples ask about the meaning of the parable of the tares, Jesus explains it, then gives the two parables of the treasure and the pearl – parables which illustrate the high value of the kingdom of heaven, for which one must put everything into it – and finally the parable of the net and of the separation of the good and unfit fish – a variation on the theme of the parable of the tares.
All this is too much in itself – aesthetically speaking: this multitude of parables does not fit together into a rounded and easily overlooked whole; considered with regard to the practical purpose: the audience must lose sight and hearing if they are to hear so many parables at once and cannot have a single one thrown at them with its full force. One picture chases away the other and none can be viewed calmly and as its value demands. It is no small defect of the composition that the most diverse substrates are used for the parables: first the fate and growth of the seed, then the leaven, then the treasure that a man finds in a field, then the pearl that a merchant who is looking for it finds, finally the catch of fish: this alternation is far too colourful and incoherent. There is also no coherence in the content: why, after the parable of the sower, is there a parable which deals with the contrast in which the kingdom of heaven develops, and then the parable of the growth of the kingdom of heaven in general? Nor is there any reason why, after the interpretation of the parable of the tares, we should go on to parables in which the high value of the kingdom of heaven is praised, and then again to the parable of the catching of fish, that is, to a parable which has as its object the separation of the opposition at the end of the development of the kingdom of heaven. Finally, the lack of coherence of the content is also demonstrated by the fact that parables in which the kingdom of heaven in general forms the object and then others (the parable of the tares and of the catching of fish) in which the Son of Man is portrayed as acting and bringing about the crisis of perfection *).
*) C. 13, 37. 4!. The presentation of the crisis in the parable of the catch of fish (v. 49) is careless and presupposes the more exact detail in the parable of the tares.
The confusion has already been explained. The parable of the tares therefore introduces the Son of Man, because it arose as this particular parable from a saying of the Baptist about the Messiah. The Son of Man also appears again in the parable of the catching of fish, at least as the Lord who sends the angels to judge, because this image is a new edition of the parable of the tares. The parable of the leaven is borrowed from Luke; the parables of the treasure and the pearl are an addition from Matthew.
We are already accustomed to Matthew’s abstract way of presenting us with a mass of similar – but essentially very dissimilar – material: this time, however, the following circumstance would add to this addition. When, after the return home, he has the disciples ask the meaning of the parable of the tares, he is actually, in view of the structure of the passage, only at the point in Mark’ account where the disciples ask the meaning of the parable of the sower; here, however, he sees several more parables following and, in flight, he now also sees to it that, after the interpretation of the parable of the tares, several more parables are recited, which the disciples alone now get to hear, while after Mark only the people are spoken to in parables. But didn’t he himself have the Lord say: I speak to the people in parables? Indeed! The contradiction is so great that it could not even be removed by the following alteration which Matthew made to the original type of the Gospel story.