#52: Teaching the Disciples

Matthew 13:36–50

Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.’ He answered, ‘The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!

‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

When we read of Jesus’ teaching ministry in the Galilee we are often struck by the pictures of him teaching the crowds. They leave a lasting impression, especially when produced in colourful children’s Bibles. Just as important, in fact possibly more important is the hidden away picture of him taking a handful of disciples and giving them in-depth explanation and analysis. To be a disciple is to be a learner, a student. Jesus was a Rabbi or teacher and he loved to run these in-depth teaching seminars for those who were closest to him.

In today’s story Jesus has left the crowds, withdrawn into the privacy of his house and his chosen few are hungry to learn more. He offers them an in-depth explanation of the parable of the weeds which had been about the planting and growing of the Kingdom. Then he follows this up with three more discovery parables of the Kingdom. The central thought of which is that in the midst of a full life the treasure, the pearl and the very special fish of the Kingdom are the most valuable parts.

It is a story of a leader with much to teach and of followers who are hungry to learn. A few years ago I gathered together a bunch of recent newcomers to our church and invited them to attend a Christian enquirers or first steps course called ‘START’. Most of the group were youngish parents keen to find something for their children and then keen to find something for themselves.

Two or three years down the line and the group are still together and they have invited a few more to join them. Now they meet once a fortnight in different houses to study the Bible, share experiences and encourage each other. They have moved on from being enquirers to serious learners. They are becoming disciples.

We have already seen Jesus sending his disciples out to continue his mission. That was a sort of learning by doing it, a sort of apprenticeship version of learning. Here we see Jesus treating the disciples more as students, they are learning by discussing, listening and careful thinking.

Our group are doing it the other way round. They began in a small ‘student type’ of group. Increasingly they are now learning by doing. Attempting to share their faith with friends and family, helping with children’s groups, doing odd pieces of work in church, picking up bits of leadership responsibility and learning to pray.

So far we have focussed on the disciples, how they learn from, follow and ‘become like’ Jesus. However there is also something to be learned here about leadership, by looking at Jesus. Lots of leaders today seem to operate with the model of ‘Command and Control’. The underlying principle of which is ‘I am in charge, I tell you what to do’. There is a bit of this in Jesus but not very much. His model is more like ‘Encourage and Enable’. Finding people, building them up and launching them into ministry.

Disciples are learners that is what the word means. The key to learning is hunger. Jesus’ disciples were hungry to learn, ‘his disciples approached him, saying ‘Explain to us’’. If you are hungry to learn, to become like him, then he is even hungrier to teach. So beef up your appetite.

Lord Jesus,
Give me that hunger to learn,
Help me to find a few others that I can learn with.
Lead me into trusting relationships as we learn together.
Lord Jesus,
May you be our Master and our teacher.