10 October 2016

Matthew 13:18-23

“Hear then the parable of the sower ...” (v. 18)

Psalm: Psalm 24


We pick up the teaching of Jesus to his disciples who (Matthew 13:10) have been wrestling with the obscurity of the parables. Jesus' response is to interpret the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:3-9).

Both the parable and its interpretation are familiar. The image of the sower broadcasting seed becomes a metaphor for the mission of Jesus or the Church in proclaiming the gospel. In the detail of the interpretation it is not always clear whether the seed is the word that has been preached or the hearer who does or does not respond, but the main idea is clear. Whenever and wherever the gospel is proclaimed some, despite an initial enthusiasm, will be effectively untouched by what they have heard whereas others will be completely transformed.

Many commentators argue that this interpretation is unlikely to have originated with Jesus; it was not usual for a parable to be explained by a rabbi in this way. What the explanation does is to turn the parable into an allegory; that is to say, each element in the story takes on a representative function to create a picture of the variety of responses to the proclamation of the good news. What that causes us to ask is why the Gospel writers felt it important to include this interpretation, and the answer may be in the context. The question of the disciples (Matthew 13:10) had been 'why parables?' and Jesus' answer (Matthew 13:11-17) implied that there will always be those who are impervious to what they are witnessing. Even among those who do respond there is huge variety (verse 23) in the yield; we are left with the mystery with which the explanation began and with which it is clear the Church has wrestled from its earliest days: why do some joyously hear the gospel and allow it to change them whilst others don't?

To Ponder

  • This is a very familiar parable. Does knowing the interpretation increase or lessen its impact? Why?
  • If the parable is about preaching, when have you heard the good news and it has made a tremendous difference? Or when the impact was short-lived?
  • Many churches seem to struggle to 'get their message across'. To what extent does it help to be reminded that it has always seemed a mystery why some but not all respond to the good news?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Jonathan Hustler

Having been a Methodist circuit minister and a theological college tutor, Jonathan is now Ministerial Coordinator for Oversight of Ordained Ministries in the Connexional Team..