16 April 2021

Tiny Parables

Jesus closes his sermon on the mount with a selection of short parables. I will only briefly analyze them, because these parables are dense with meaning. The common thread running between them is judging what is good or evil, though that is not necessarily the meaning of each parable. Read separately, each parable lends itself to a deeper meaning, which is why many speculate that the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 was probably not a singular, historical event, but a narrative frame for collecting the teachings of Jesus.

The first collection of parables are hedged by two sayings, "Do not judge or you too will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you" and "do to others as you would have them do to you," which Jesus explains "sums up the Law and the Prophets," which is to say, the entire message of scripture (7:1-12).

This idea of equal measure has already shown up in the sermon. Jesus quoted Deuteronomy in measuring "eye for eye and tooth for tooth." There he urges his followers to give freely to anyone in need, even those who would take what they have forcibly (5:38). In his parable, Jesus answers Deuteronomy's passage more directly. He shows that, when turned toward introspection, can lead to a way of solving issues between people (7:1-5).

Jesus advises that you must solve your own problems before helping to solve the problems of others. It is easy to be quick to help others, much less easy to be responsible for yourself, and far less easy to ask others for help. Yet this is exactly what Jesus is calling his disciples to do. If one possesses wisdom, it should not be given freely but reserved for the one who asks for help (7:1-6).

Jesus advises that his followers help each other, not by busily offering judgment, but by solving their own problems and helping others who come to them for the wisdom they earned in doing so. He then goes on to tell them that the same is true of God, that while they can help each other in this way, the wisdom of God transcends all their understanding, so that the whole is greater than the sum (7:7-14).

Jesus then tells them that they will recognize good teachers by what their teaching produces. A wise buider can build a house that will weather storms. Their teachings will hold in good times and bad. A moral teacher will not advise evil, but those who follow his teaching will produce virtue. But even a good teacher can have bad students. Jesus warns his disciples to put in the work and not depend on his name alone for their salvation. If they wish to be his disciples, they must accept his teaching (7:15-29).

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