The Parable Of The Sowing Of Seed
February 4, 2007
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Why "A Parable?"
1. Today's gospel reading is a parable that Jesus gave. So, what purpose did Jesus have for telling a parable? There are some who say "By using familiar subjects, Jesus spoke in a way easy for folks to understand." When we read the gospels, that does make some sense. But what about with the passage that was read out loud today? It was from verses five to eight that he had actually spoken to the crowd. He said just that and then concluded with, "Oh those who have ears that hear, hear." Was [this] a message that they understood easily? I hardly think it was.
2. For starters, if it were an easy to understand message, the disciples should not have needed to ask "What meaning does this parable [have]?" It wasn't because they were "new comers" that they didn't understand, but it is fact that even the disciples did not understand, [though] they had heard Jesus tell it more than a few times. Jesus said to the disciples who asked the meaning of the parable, "To be enlightened unto the mysteries of the kingdom of God has been permitted to you, but I speak to others using parables. It is so that 'even though they see they do not see, even though they hear they will not understand.'," (verse ten). Wow, Jesus says that he makes it difficult to understand on purpose by using a parable, that they might not be enlightened unto the mysteries of the kingdom of God.
3. However, we need to keep several pieces of truth in mind here. First is that Jesus did not use "parables" at the beginning. The aspects of how and when he had kicked off his preaching ministry in Galilee are recorded in chapter four. Jesus taught going around from synagogue to synagogue in each village. He did not speak in parables. We can see an example of that beginning in chapter four and verse sixteen. At the synagogue in Nazareth Jesus read from the book of Isaiah aloud and he began to say, "The words of this scripture were fulfilled when you heard them today." They understood Jesus' message easily. That's why the opposition to Jesus' radical message was huge. So, it is believed that in the early period of Jesus' preaching activities hardly any parables were used.
4. Then second, it is that the people were gradually divided two ways according to Jesus' preaching. On the one hand, there were those who followed Jesus. But then on the other hand, people who heard the message of Jesus in a criticizing way and people who were overtly hostile to him also arose.
5. This is the background to [why] Jesus started to speak using parables. "To be enlightened unto the mysteries of the kingdom of God has been permitted to you, but I speak to others using parables." The "you" here means the disciples of Jesus. It is the people who accepted and were willing to follow Jesus' words. On the other hand, when Jesus said "others," it leads one to assume there were people who had heard the words of the Lord in a disspassionate way, people who had been taking an antagonistic attitude [against him]. The Lord says he speaks in "parables" so that they would understand less and less, "It is so that 'even though they see they do not see, even though they hear they will not understand.'"
6. I wonder if this thing called "a parable" really is reasoning of that nature? The parables of Jesus must be the kind of utterance that people do not understand in the least, sort of gibberish, even though they hear it calmly, objectively, critically trying to see it from the outside. As long as one puts oneself on the outside, "The Parable Of The Sowing Of The Seed" is just a tale about a peasant in this world. But, as a person trying to follow Jesus, as a message directed to "me," when I hear it by putting myself into it, many things will appear to me -- That's what a parable is. When you don't put yourself into it, you don't get the meaning of it. Thus, depending on one's attitude towards Jesus, people are split into either the kind that is enlightened or the kind that is not enlightened. With that design Jesus speaks.
7. Furthermore, I think that the message of the Bible in the first place is in and of itself of that very nature. Unless you put yourself into it, you'll never get it. Even though you are gazing from the outside, you will not understand it. As long as one is speaking of religion in general, in the manner of "One does that kind of thinking in Christianity, you know. In other religions, they do another kind of thinking different from that," then perhaps what the Bible is stating is "impossible to get" or [I] don't wonder that "It never hits home." But, when that person began to say, "I thought that way," "I felt like that," "I took it that way," the situation would start changing. By bringing oneself alone, putting oneself into it, one will begin to be able to see. It's the same even when it comes to this sermon in this service.
The Ground Where Seeds Do Not Yield Forth Fruit
8. Well, in this way then Jesus begins to speak out using "metaphors" at this point, but "the parable" itself is recorded in verses five to eight and its explanation is recorded beginning with verse eleven. Jesus spoke on the four kinds of soil. One is the ground on the roadside, one stony ground, one in the midst of thorns, and finally "the good ground." I mentioned "the four kinds of soil," but Jesus was not speaking about four separate places apart from each other, he was instead giving a story about one field.
9. The roadside one is a path made in the field, where people passing by had trampled upon it. Also, the stony ground is in the same field. When you look at pictures of Palestine, it looks like the fields have a lot of rocks in them from the start. With an enormous amount of effort they set those stones apart to the side. They would usually turn it into materials for a stone wall. However, they could not completely remove all the stones. A number of rocks would remain. What is being spoken about here is the places where the diluted soil is left on these rocks. Then also, thorns were also growing in the field. The thorns were spreading their roots in the deep spots. In the farming of that day at a time when irrigation was not part of the fundamental practice they did not plow deep because the moisture would end up evaporating. So, the deep roots of the thorns some how always remained. It would grow along with the wheat.
10. In this way then, these are statements about one field. [They] sow the seeds in it. The sowing of the seed, if going by today's standards, was a pretty much crackpot way of doing it. They would scatter it randomly on the field. After that they would till a little. That way some of the seeds were covered up a bit by the dirt. Of course, since they were disseminating at random, sometimes some of it would fall on the road. They did not till there. So, the seeds would never get covered over with earth. As a result, it would end up as feed for the birds. Also, as I mentioned earlier, since they did not irrigate, until the rainy season came, the seed had to be nourished on the moisture in the ground. As for the seeds on the rocks, their sprouts would come out, but unfortunately, they would dry up completely. The scattered seeds would also sometimes fall in spots where there were the thorn roots. When the thorns grew up with them, since [the thorns] were stronger, the wheat would not bring a yield.
11. With sowing done in that manner, you wouldn't expect much of a harvest. Going by an explanation from this one person, I'm told it was considered a bumper crop whenever they had a tenfold crop. Therefore, the story of "Yielding A Hundredfold Crop" is quite extreme. Jesus sometimes told these kinds of extreme tales.
12. Well, when we put ourselves into this story, in various senses, our own faith life comes out for us to see. In addition, when we read the explanation given by Jesus beginning in verse eighteen, it seems to sound like a story painfully true for us.
13. "Those on the roadside are the people who hear the word of God, but so that they don't believe and are saved, afterwards the devil comes and steals away the word form their hearts." -- "Yeah, that's surely me. I always go the down hill [path] after leaving church, I don't remain behind at all because the devil plucks out the word. I'm definitely the roadside."
14. "The stony ground is the people who when they hear the word, they rejoice and receive it, but it has no roots and though they believe for a while, when they encounter a trial, they withdraw themselves." -- When they have surely heard the word, they say "Hallelujah!" and rejoice, however, they do not continue for some reason. They felt a seed of the word that sprouted forth, though, you know. It's just there was something they didn't like too much, and they withered. I am the stony ground."
15. "And that which fell among the thorns are the people who hear the word, but along the way, they are shut down by worrisome thoughts for their lives, and riches, and pleasures, and they don't ever reach [a point] when their fruit would mature." -- "My heart is wantonly overgrown with thorns. This is it you know, though I am captivated by the word, but you shouldn't expect me to be fruitful.
You Will Bear Fruit One Hundred-Fold
16. When we place ourselves into this parable in this way then, the important thing is that we examine ourselves in it, as to whether we are the roadside, the stony ground, or the thorn filled ground. However, the story doesn't end with that. Jesus also spoke about the good soil, and he gave some extreme words, such that anybody may doubt hearing. He said, "Also, other seed fell on the good earth, sprouted up, and bore fruit one hundred-fold." The center point of the story is obviously not on the three other types, but on this final type.
17. Like I said earlier, it is a speech with one field and the roadside, the stony ground, the thorny ground, and the good ground are not in separate places. Therefore, the roadside ground is not necessarily the roadside ground forever. On the following year, the stones may be removed from the ground full of stones. Thorns may not necessarily grow out the following year either. Any one of them may become good soil, it's all part of the field. And when it does turn into good soil, it will yield forth fruit one hundred-fold.
18. It will yield forth fruit one hundred-fold -- as already touched upon, that is a truly extreme number. It is not natural. Suppose something like that did happen, it would clearly be God's doing. Jesus is speaking about the work of God. Studying the Bible as morals, or hearing from it lessons for life and then doing self-examination, and becoming a better person, one may do that; but, that kind of natural fruit, though a good crop, would be at best tenfold. Of course, that would surely be better than yielding forth no fruit, but Jesus was not talking about this kind of natural fruit. -- Because [one] will yield forth a hundred-fold fruit. That is the workings of God.
19. When the word of God is sown as seed, the work of God will show forth inside a person. Through the person, the work of God's love will be shown forth and revealed. It is not some tale about our natural dispositions being improved little by little, but the [real] fruit of God's love will yield forth. Thus then, God himself does work through our meager lives. The seed called the word of God has this amazing potential on the inside.
20. This seed has been sown now. Nobody needs to keep being the roadside [type] the whole way. Nobody needs to be stony ground the whole time. Nobody needs for life long to be the ground where thorns grow and thrive. Now that the seed has been sown on purpose, it may be merely and terribly wasted, though. Even though God's seed is sown, so that the work of God might be revealed on this earth, since it may end up for naught, it may be merely wasted. [Yet] the seed will yield forth one hundred-fold fruit.
21. The seed of the Word was sown. With that the main thing then is "how will you hear it?" When the Lord spoke parables to people, he said with a loud voice at the end, "Oh persons that have ears that hear, hear." A person can place himself or herself on the outside and hear as if looking on from the outside dispassionately. As followers of Jesus, as a message directed to "me," we can place ourselves in it and hear it too. It's [all a matter of] "how will you hear it?"
22. So, "Having heard it, what will you do?" In your every day life, this, that, and the other will happen no doubt. We are to preserve the word of God in it. We are not to throw it away for good. We are to persevere until we bear fruit. "That which fell on the good ground is the people who hear the word of God with a decent and good heart, keep it well, and by persevering will bear fruit," (verse fifteen), said the Lord. How will we ever be able to persevere until we bear fruit? We are to believe in a harvest. We are to expect it. Let's believe in the harvest. Through us in whom the seed of the Word has been sown, let's expect the work of God's love to be revealed; because the Lord has spoken to us, "Grow and you [will] have yielded forth one hundred-fold fruit" because you have turned your eyes on God's work.