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The Secret Codes in Matthew: Examining Israel’s Messiah, Part 9: Matthew 13-14, by Kevin M. Williams

The Jewish scholars of old realized that such long-term, intense learning can be exhausting, and so they littered the Talmud with parables. These had a multi-fold purpose, one of which was to break the rigors of study with a simple story. These were something of a “recess for the mind,” breaking away from the intensity and bringing the tone between the students back to a normal level.

The parables were used to keep the debate on track. It is all to common to veer off any given subject and find oneself talking about something that has nothing to do with where the conversation started. If nothing else, the Talmud understands human nature. Through the use of the mashalim, inserted seemingly at random in and around the commentaries, the lessons are kept on target.

The parables also served to tell the simple story, a p’shat, which was easy enough to understand at any level of scholarship, if only as wisdom for the common, unlearned person. But they also held some deeper, sometimes mysterious meaning, a remetz, with which the students had to wrestle. The rabbis purposefully intended for students to have some difficulty understanding. But the real purpose is for the disciple to learn what they can on their own, taking the concepts as far as they are able, within the confines of their own experience and knowledge. The concept is by reaching conclusions with your intellect helps you to “own” the lesson, to really grasp its deeper meanings and nuances.

If we were to take these components and compare them to Yeshua’s parables, we may find some striking similarities.

First, whether addressing the common folk, his disciples, or the Pharisee or Scribe, they all heard the same parable and could all walk away with a personal understanding of what Yeshua had said. Essentially, when Yeshua spoke, he said something of relevance to everyone.

Yet his disciples suspected that there might be more.

And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?”

And He answered and said to them, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted. For whoever has, to him shall more be given, and he shall have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand” (Matthew 13:10-13).

It is not likely that Yeshua was calling the general public “ignorant.” This does not seem consistent with his compassionate character. Rather he is saying what was spelled out in our study here—everyone has a different “take” on a parable. Similarly, he is saying what has also been pointed out, that within a parable is a mystery, a deeper meaning with which people of good conscience can grapple. He is telling his disciples that regardless of what everyone else may have heard or not heard, he has a deeper relevance he wants the disciples to understand.

Asking questions in the third person as the disciples did, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” can be a very cunning way of sidestepping one’s own ignorance. Their question was not likely as innocent as it appears. Rabbis routinely taught in parables. It was commonplace and the disciples would have been familiar with this from their own synagogue experiences. Yeshua, knowing their hearts and minds, rather than embarrass or belittle them, answers their real question without rebuke.

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Category: Biblical Studies, Pneuma Review, Spring 2003

About the Author: Kevin M. Williams, Litt.D., H.L.D. has served in Messianic ministries since 1987 and has written numerous articles and been a featured speaker at regional and international conferences on Messianic Judaism.

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