Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Parable of the Sower

Jesus taught using parables, short symbolic stories, so that the listener would understand only if they knew of the symbols being used.  This prevented the uneducated from being condemned if they rejected Jesus’ message because they didn’t understand the message.  In this post I will explain the symbolism as clearly as I can.  There is plenty of food for thought.

One of the few parables which has an interpretation given in scripture is the parable of the sower in Matthew 13.  The story goes... that a farmer is planting seeds.  Some of his seeds fell outside (“by the wayside”) of his prepared ground.  They were “devoured” by birds.  Some of his seeds fell where there wasn’t much earth and after they sprouted they were scorched by the sun.  Some fell “among thorns” possibly weeds and were “choked” or crowded out by the faster growing weeds.  Lastly some seeds fell on good ground and produced a harvest for the farmer of 100%, 60% or 30% depending on other factors.

The symbolic meaning is explained later in the same chapter.  The farmer is anyone spreading the gospel message.  When someone hears the message, their response is symbolized by the ground’s fertility as described in the parable.  For example, if a person hears the word of God and doesn’t understand it, they are like the seeds that fell outside the prepared ground.  Something devours the seed before it has a chance to sprout.  In the parable it’s birds.  The birds symbolize the devil.  Peter warned later in the New Testament book of 1 Peter, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.

The second soil described in the parable is rocky.  In the interpretation, the person hears the word of God and accepts it to grow but then problems arise or someone mocks and the new ideas are scorched.  They are left to wither and the person moves on to other ideas and projects.

The third scenario is that the seed falls among thorns, or weeds.  In this case, the person hears the word of God but the stresses of life, especially dishonesty and wealth, crowd out the seed so that it can’t grow.  The ideas of the gospel were good but they were crowded out by faster growing interests.

Finally some seeds are planted in good ground.  This is symbolic of the person who hears the word of God and understands it.  The harvest is symbolic of the fruits of gospel principles in blessing people’s lives.  Sometimes the blessings are bountiful like a 100% return on an investments.  Sometimes the blessings are fewer like a 30% return.  

Painting by Camille Pissarro

Now most people don’t need an education to understand how seeds work.  However, the truly educated then and now would recognize some of the symbols.  For example, Ezekiel is the only Old Testament prophet who spoke of “stony hearts.”  He said that God would give you an new heart and that it would be like having a bountiful harvest.  In fact Ezekiel says that other people would marvel that desolate ground could bring a harvest like the Garden of Eden.  (Ezek 36:34-35)

Jeremiah another Old Testament prophet advised the House of Israel not to plant among thorns.   He compared sins to thorns and prophesied that the “lion” would make the land so desolate that the “heart of the king shall perish, and the heart of the princes; and the priests shall be astonished and the prophets shall wonder.”  So an educated person might have heard of Jeremiah’s prophesies and know about the destruction but may not have equated it with the reaction of people to God’s word.

Jesus was a master teacher.  He brought images into his parables that reminded people of the teachings of the prophets.  He gave people something new to think about in terms of seeds and hearts and harvests.  He protected the ignorant.  He challenged the religious elite.  He invites us all to bear fruit.
Image from Wikipedia

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