15th Sunday Ordinary Time – “The evil one snatches away…”

Parable of the Sower 2

Translating Matthew 13:19 opens a can of worms.  How ought we translate the Greek, ponerós?  Here’s what the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) does with it in the context of the Parable of the Sower.  The NRSV translates the word as “evil one” in a couple other places, too.  Yet, ponerós seems to refer to realities other than the devil, our default suspect.

Matthew 13:19            When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path.

Matthew 5:37–39            Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.   “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’   But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also;

Matthew 6:12f            And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.  And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.

Matthew 13:37f           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,

However, the NRSV also translates ponerós as evil, unhealthy, bad, wicked, envious, and wicked.  Here is a summary plus a few examples – not all… (!)

  • An unhealthy eye is envious (6:22f & 20:15)
  • Bad tree bears evil fruit (7:17)
  • Scribes & Pharisees think evil in their hearts seeking to neutralize Jesus’ mission – “He blasphemes!”  (9:3f)
  • An evil person brings evil things out of an evil treasure – scribes & Pharisees for opposing and seeking to scuttle Jesus’ mission.  They seek a sign. (12:34f, 39; 16:4)
  • Good wheat grows with weeds.  At the end of the age, angels will separate out the evil from the righteous – sheep & goats? (13:49f)
  • What comes out of the heart defiles – evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander.(15:18-20)
  • Wicked slave did not forgive other slave after being forgiven his huge debt. (18:32)
  • Slaves gathered all into the wedding banquet – good and evil. (22:10)
  • Wicked slave was lazy & fearful for not investing the talent given him. (25:26)

Matthew 5:11f            “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account

Matthew 5:44f            But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.

Matthew 6:22f             “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; 23 but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

Matthew 20:15 (NRSV) — 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious [eye evil?] because I am generous?’

What does ponerós refer to as that which snatches away what was sown in the heart?  Envy, setting obstacles to Jesus’ mission, evil intentions, murder, etc…, unforgiving spirit, fear and laziness.

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