8 October 2016

Matthew 13:1-17

“Why do you speak to them in parables?” (v. 10)

Psalm: Psalm 23


When I was a child I lived next to a farm and spent much of my time watching its work. As the seasons progressed I saw the sowing, the growing, the reaping and the mowing so to speak. However in the time when Jesus told the story of the sower, things were very different.

When a sower went forth it would be, just as many artists over the years have described, a man with a basket taking handfuls of seed and scattering the seed on the ground which had been prepared for it. There was no certainty where the seed would enter the soil or even if it would make it to the ground at all. Those listening to the parable would know well the story; many of them would have found themselves with a sparse harvest because the ground was too stony, or the wind was blowing the seed away from where it was intended to land. They would know well about the vagaries of the weather - sometimes too wet, sometimes so hot and dry that even the seed which had fallen on the most fertile places would be scorched and destroyed. There were also the weeds, which would choke the young and growing plants, destroying them as they grew.

In his inimitable way Jesus used the familiar to convey a strong message, those listening to him are asked to look beyond the words to what the story means. It is assumed that the disciples have been given the wisdom or the secret message of the kingdom of heaven, and one can assume from this that the others in the crowd listening to the account would not fully understand that Jesus was speaking about the truth of God's purpose rather than a few seeds of corn. This fits with the thinking within Judaism that from time to time visionaries would appear who believed they had got glimpses of the destiny God had in store for the world and that they would express their visions in cryptic form. Jesus' answer to the question posed by the disciples is to point them back to the prophecy of Isaiah which indicates that although they understand the message, the crowds have not yet been given the opportunity to understand for themselves. No doubt some in the crowd would go away from the encounter and find themselves thinking of the inner truth within the words others perhaps take it, just as a story which describes the life and the struggles they themselves have year by year.

To Ponder

  • How do you read the parables? As a disciple, looking for the message within? Or as a story which relates to life as it is and nothing more?
  • Why do you think the truth is only given to the disciples and kept from the wider audience listening to Jesus?
  • How much do you rely on the parables to help you to understand the world and its problems?

Bible notes author

The Revd Pat Billsborrow

Pat Billsborrow is a supernumerary minister in the Northwich and Winsford Circuit, and is at present part of a district ministry team working within that circuit with pastoral care of four churches. She is ecumenical officer in the Cheshire part of the Chester and Stoke on Trent Methodist District.