Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Matthew: On the Parable of the Wheat and Tares

The similarities and differences between Matthew’s parable, Matthew’s interpretation, and the parable of the weeds as present in the gospel of Thomas run roughly as follows:they all contain the central plot concerning a sown field corrupted by the weeds of an enemy ; they all contain the characters of a unnamed sower, some form a servant, and an enemy; and they all carry the basic theme of reserving judgment until the proper (end) time, when good and bad may be safely separated.

The three differ, however, in subtle but significant ways: only Matthew’s parable proper has servants/slaves, only the Thomas version eliminates the command to the servants to let both plants grow, and only the Matthean explanation identifies the sower as the Son of man.

This leads us to the signal emphasis of each of the three versions of the story: the Matthean parable proper clearly emphasizes the didactic, pragmatic nature of the parable as instruction to the early Jesus movement considering what to do with less than devout followers; the Thomas parable emphasizes the ultimate destruction of the weeds as the due judgment of the ‘weeds’ contaminating Gnostic communities; and the Matthean explanation of the parable emphasizes church teachings concerning Christology, world and church, and the eschatological nature of the kingdom of God.

As far as Peter’s confession and its significance, I would now assume that it would describe essentially describe what it seems to: Peter is to be the first new leader of the Jesus movement in light of Jesus’ impending and anticipated absence. This is so because he is the first one to unequivocally articulate Jesus’ identity as the one who brings salvation. He is rightly placed first in all the New Testament lists of all the apostles. That much, I think, is fairly clear.

What that means precisely, how that actually gets carried out in the world and in the church and how it is related to say, administrative functioning, seems to me a good deal more clouded. The blessings seem, shall we say, enigmatic, and I don’t think being first or being the foundation means being the greatest or the one of most hierarchical power (that goes for my own Episcopal bishops, too, so I’m not being anti-RC here). I would hope it would mean being first as in the least, and the foundation as in supportive, essential, and easily and perilously forgotten.

What I’m most interested in, of course, is Peter’s later position in regards to Paul, and their respective positions regarding Jewish culture and Gentile appropriation. In what sense is Peter first in that dispute? Are we grafted unto Peter? But that, perhaps, is outside the context of this class. What I mean is that while I do see a sense of Peter’s importance in the post-Easter community (before then he’s a pretty mixed bag) what I don’t see is a precise mechanism for the transmission of that authority from one person to another. Jesus just doesn’t say it here. We’ll have to muddle along with delegation as best we can, without a clear scriptural imperative.

Which is for me the benefit of this passage: Peter is clearly a massively ordinary person; in the next few verses he denies the death of the Messiah who he was just lined up to replace (as leader of the community); consequently, Jesus calls him Satan. I don’t know why, but I’ve always found it encouraging that he was the guy that got picked. It’s almost a Jewish/ Old Testament depiction of human frailty/inconsistency in leadership – because salvation’s not about the ethical aptitude of priest/kings anymore. It’s about belief and faith in the Messiah Jesus of Nazareth.

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