As we arrive at chapter 13 of Matthew’s Gospel, it becomes increasingly clear that Jesus’ ministry is becoming more focused on His disciples while He is increasingly opposed by the religious Jewish leaders. This polarized response is evidently growing through chapters 11-12. But the progressive polarization to Jesus is not perfect, as we find even the disciples’ have misunderstandings, and we see their faith failing at times.
Surprisingly some of the most faithless responses come from those closest to Him; while the most faithful responses come from Gentiles. In this section we also see the disciples’ strengths and weaknesses set against Christ’s goodness, glory and grace toward them. All of this continues as the shadow of His suffering and crucifixion looms; this text has been referred to as a “pre-passion story.”
Having concluded the parabolic discourse of chapter 13, now the parables become history as we will look at five narratives – Jesus’ rejection at Nazareth (13:53-58), the beheading of John (14:1-12), the feeding of the 5000 (14:13-21), walking on water (14:22-33), and healing in Gennesaret (14:34-36). In these narratives we will find a mixed reception on the part of different people which occurs any time a people are confronted with Jesus Christ. As the parable of the sower has just illustrated (13:1-9), some people despise and reject the gospel (the seed that falls on the path), and some embrace and believe (the fourth, fertile soil).
In the next section of Matthew’s Gospel (13:53-16:20), Jesus will give an explicit and definitive answer as to the questions that people have about His identity and mission. The culmination of this revelation occurs in Matthew 16:13-20 where Matthew strikingly concludes the section with Peter’s triumphant confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (16:16). But before this moment, Matthew introduces this section by contrasting the people’s rejection of Jesus and John the Baptist, based upon mistaken assessments as to their identity (13:53-14:12). While the responses of Herod’s beheading of John and Jesus’ rejection by his hometown can be likened to the seed that falls on the path, it is the surprising response of those “outsiders” of Gennesaret of absolute acceptance, that provides an historic fulfillment of the receptive fertile soil of the parable. Those who despise and reject Christ usually do so based on a misunderstanding of the nature of His Person and work (an incorrect Christology); alternatively, when people receive Christ, it is because He has revealed His true nature to them.