11 October 2019Matthew 13:1-17
‘Let anyone with ears listen!’ (v. 9)
Psalm: Psalm 74:1-17
This story is commonly known as the parable of the sower. A better title, and one which captures something of its surprise and force, might be ‘the parable of the unbelievable harvest’! New Testament scholar Robert McIvor suggests that a thirty-fold yield, to say nothing of the hundred-fold one, would seem nothing short of miraculous to listeners in first-century Palestine.
Stories of superabundant harvests are found in some late Jewish sacred texts, found in some Christian Bibles as the ‘apocryphal’ (non-canonical) books between Old and New Testaments, and not having the same status as Holy Scripture.
These harvest stories are eschatological in nature: looking forward to God’s final restoring and vindication of Israel. They involve a huge harvest, symbolising the over-abundant fruitfulness of the land of Israel after God eternally established his kingdom. (Eg 1 Enoch 10:19; 2 Apoc. Baruch 29:5; 4 Ezra 4:26-29.)
Jesus’ parable carries echoes of this kingdom-motif of the extraordinary harvest. But it also subverts it. And herein lies its real surprise and force. The apocryphal stories usually locate the miraculously large harvest at the end of a series of unsuccessful attempts which represent the failure of the present age. In the 4 Ezra text, a barren yield from bad seed must pass away before the harvest from the good seed can emerge.
The parable offers a glimpse into Jesus’ own understanding that there is not a linear progression from the end of the old age, with its bad soil and failed seed, to a new age of fruitfulness, wiping out all memories of old. Rather, the old age and its failures still continues, but is now seeded with traces of the new age, springing up right alongside.
Jesus is challenging eschatological expectations by suggesting that God’s kingdom can exist, in part, in the realities of the current age, and that the kingdom is already manifesting itself and bearing fruit amidst the lives of his hearers – then and now.
- Have you seen or experienced anything that might be signs of God’s promised kingdom amidst the failures of a fallen world?
- Which of Jesus’ parables speak/s to you most powerfully of the kingdom, and why?