Barry Newman's Blog

October 21, 2012

The Parables of Jesus (part IX) – The Parable of the Sower (part IV)

Filed under: Parables of Jesus,The Parable of the Sower — barrynewman @ 8:06 pm

The “Oddities” of the Parable

Though Carson believes that an increase of even a hundred fold was not impossible, others are of the opinion that tenfold was nearer the average, the point being made in the parable that the gain was exceptionally good.  In fact, that Jesus also refers to thirtyfold and sixty fold as well as one hundred fold is probably a good indication that not only was thirtyfold a good yield but that sixty was a very good yield and one hundredfold and exceptionally good yield.  That Luke only refers to the hundredfold increase could be understood as Luke simply indicating that that was a normal expectation or much more likely that the reference to a hundred fold was enough on its own to indicate what a bumper crop it was. Jesus is trying to make a point and he is not going to be constrained in his telling of the story by what in real life tends to be the yield.

There is however another aspect of the story which in its bare form does not seem to ring true.  Any farmer sowing in the same field for most years will be well aware of the rocky areas where the soil has little depth or where the thorns tend to grow.  He will also be well aware that birds might come and find easy pickings where the seed has fallen on hard ground.  In real life, he will try and minimise the seed that falls on those three areas and might well have an assistant who shoos away any birds that might come by.  In Jesus day, the seed is first “sown” and then the area is ploughed.  He is not going to plough over the rocky ground and the ground where the thorns grow.  He may well decide not to plough over the paths that he uses for the area from which he traditionally throws his seed and which path he may choose to walk as he gathers in the harvest.  But Jesus is not telling a story about sowing seed, for the sake of simply the story itself.  Again he is trying to make a point or a series of points.  To do so, he will concoct a story with utter simplicity – almost as though there were equal amounts of seed falling on the four different areas – some fell, some fell, some fell and some fell. The casual character of the account might even suggest that the farmer was careless, though it is clear that Jesus does not intend that to be a feature of its meaning.

We become aware of a final oddity when we hear his interpretation. The reality behind the explanation he gives does not quite fit the reality that the story seems to convey. However in making the points that he does, that is of no consequence and is to be ignored.  We will look at this later.

What is of interest is that commentators do not seem readily to appreciate that when Jesus tells a story he will make it untrue to life if needs be in order to convey the message he has planned for behind the story.  Reality will not constrain what he wants to say.  He tells a perfectly good “yarn”!  I cannot imagine that any of his hearers would say “Hang on, it is not like that in real life!” More likely they would be thinking – “Aha.  I wonder what he’s getting at.  This is intriguing.”  I suspect that in his Semitic world, using such a strategy in story telling was perfectly acceptable. Such a strategy would be likely to receive a good hearing but that was not why or the main reason why Jesus told the story the way he did.  He constructed it so that it would be appropriate for the task he had for it.  He would not let the truth be determined by the story.  The story must be determined by the truth. And so we await its explanation but first what about the lack of understanding to which the Gospel writers refer?

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