Saturday

12 October 2019

Matthew 13:18-23

‘Hear then the parable of the sower.’ (v. 18)

Psalm: Psalm 74:18-23

Background

In this passage, Jesus gives his disciples the meaning of the parable of the sower (13:1-9). We don’t normally see Jesus ‘explaining’ his parables. It’s particularly odd to see him doing so in such directly allegorical terms (where each element of the story has a single, definitive symbolic meaning).

This oddity has led students of the New Testament to believe that rather than originating with Jesus, the allegorical explanation of the parable is a later addition.

The kind of language that’s used in the explanation section also suggests that it came later, after the resurrection. Some of the language is not found elsewhere in the Gospels but does appear in Paul’s letters.

One example is the Greek word proskairos – translated as ‘only for a while’ in verse 21. This is a word that isn’t a Greek version of an Aramaic one (the language Jesus and the disciples would have spoken). It’s a Greek word without any obvious equivalent in Aramaic.

This suggests to biblical scholars that this explanation-story doesn’t originate with Jesus, but with a Greek-speaking individual or community who collected together all the sayings of Jesus after the resurrection.

This isn’t to dismiss the value of the passage. It offers a profound theological reflection on Jesus’ parable. But in allegorising the parable via one definitive meaning it differs from what we normally see from Jesus.

Jesus’ parables present the kingdom of God – but not in straightforward ways. They are often surprising, even shocking. Take for example the parables of the hidden treasure, the pearl and the fishing net just a few verses later in chapter 13 (vs. 44-50). It’s not clear what these stories about the kingdom mean; they force us to wonder, to think in new ways. Metanoia is the word the New Testament uses for repentance and conversion. It literally means a change of mind. Jesus isn’t just telling us about the kingdom in his parables. He’s forcing us to think differently, in new ways – and so preparing us for the kingdom, to be its citizens.

 

To Ponder:

  • Which of Jesus’ parables seems most obscure or difficult to you? Why?
  • Is there one of Jesus’ sayings or stories which has ‘changed your mind’? Which one, and why/how did it change you?

Bible notes author

The Revd Carole Irwin

Carole is a presbyter in the Methodist Church. She has served in circuits in Folkestone and Bradford, and is currently Director of Studies at Wesley House, Cambridge.

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