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Matthew 13:1-17

The Parable of the Sower

     1That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

     10 The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”

     11 He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.12 Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables:

        “Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand.

     14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:

        “‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
        15 For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’

     16 But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. 17 For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.

Today and tomorrow, our readings come from Matthew’s report of the Parable of the Sower. Today’s listed reading includes the parable itself, and an explanation by Jesus about why he speaks in parables. In tomorrow’s reading Jesus explains the meaning of the parable itself.

The explanation given here of why Jesus chooses to do so much teaching in parables  winds up being sort of confusing when it’s translated into English from the Greek original, which itself was a translation from the Aramaic language Jesus actually spoke most of the time.

Our English version winds up sounding like Jesus is telling his disciples that he speaks in parables because he doesn’t want most people to understand what he’s saying – like it’s an intentional strategy to hide his meaning from the masses. But the best New Testament scholars say that Jesus’ point is that the disciples have been given the extraordinary gift of being allowed to understand what God was doing in the world.

By this point in his ministry, Jesus had been preaching and teaching for some time. And some people – we call them ‘the disciples’ – had heard and embraced the truth at the heart of his teaching: that the kingdom of God had begun to break into this world when Jesus himself appeared in it. But most of those who heard Jesus preach and teach never really embraced his teachings in a way that changed their lives – even though they might have found him an interesting and charismatic teacher. Some followed him around for a while to hear his interesting sermons and get the occasional miraculous meal, but most people failed to see the relevance of what Jesus was teaching. So eventually they would just drift away.

On the other hand, by this time the disciples were starting to ‘get’ what Jesus was talking about. They were starting to see the deeper meanings in what he was saying. The parables weren’t just little stories about people in unusual circumstances. They gave glimpses of how the kingdom of God operates – this kingdom that Jesus had come into the world to announce.

Now, Jesus could have done his teaching by just delivering lectures on matters of theology and doctrine. But if you’ve ever had to sit through lectures on theology and doctrine, you know they’re usually dry as burnt toast, and they don’t form in memory very well. But Jesus’ parables become vivid lessons you remember and keep thinking about. In fact, sometimes you just can’t forget them.

It seems to me there’s one other important reason for Jesus to have done so much of his teaching in the form of parables: Parables are a very easy way for disciples to pass along Jesus’ teaching to others. So each time he taught a parable to his disciples, he was giving them a tool they could use to teach others an important point about Jesus’ ministry.

Think about this a second. Would you rather try to explain the scope and meaning of God’s will in regard to mutual human responsibility, or tell someone the story of the Good Samaritan? And if you had to describe God’s attitude toward human sinfulness, would you rather deliver a lecture on the nature of sin and forgiveness, or pass along the Parable of the Prodigal Son? No contest, right? The parables gave Jesus’ disciples tools for passing along what they had been taught.

Which, by the way, probably says that as followers of Jesus in our own time, we should take the time to make sure we understand the parables of Jesus. Because telling people about Jesus’ teachings by using the parables is probably going to be much more effective than trying to explain arcane doctrines like ‘predestination.’ Most of us hate the idea of ‘witnessing’ to those around us. But if someone asks what we believe about God, it’s not that hard to say something like, “Well, I believe we all kind of wander away from God, like the guy in the story Jesus told about the ‘prodigal son’.” And if we understand the parable well enough to explain what it’s about, we have an easy way to share our faith without having to use churchy talk and theological language.

Let’s pray. Lord, we thank you for the genius of the parables. We thank you for the way Jesus told us profound truths using stories about everyday life. Help us to learn to use those parables in living as his disciples in our world today. Amen.

Every Blessing,

Henry

(The other readings for today are Psalms 124 and 145; Leviticus 25:35-55; and Colossians 1:9-14. Our readings come from the NIV Bible as posted on Biblica.org, the website of the American Bible society.)