July 10, 2005 - Pentecost +8

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

13  1 That same day Jesus left the house and sat down by the lakeside. As many people gathered around him, he got in a boat. There he sat while the whole crowd stood on the shore, and he spoke to them in parables about many things.

Jesus said, "The sower went out to sow and, as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground where there was little soil, and the seeds sprouted quickly because the soil was not deep. But as soon the sun rose the plants were scorched and withered because they had no roots. Again other seeds fell among thistles; and the thistles grew and choked the plants. Still other seeds fell on good soil and produced a crop; some produced a hundredfold, others sixty and others thirty. If you have ears, then hear!"

. . .

 18 Now listen to the parable of the sower.

19 When a person hears the message of the Kingdom but without taking it to himself, the devil comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed that fell along the footpath.

20 The seed that fell on rocky ground stands for the one who hears the word and accepts it at once with joy. 21 But this fickle and has no roots. No sooner is he harassed or persecuted because of the word, than he gives up.

22 The seed that fell among the thistles is the one who hears the word, but then the worries of this life and the love of money choke the word, and it does not bear fruit.

23 As for the seed that fell on good soil it is the one who hears the word and under­stands it; this bears fruit and produces a hundred, or sixty, or thirty times more."

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Notes from [The Community Christian Bible

• 13.1 Here we have the beginning of the third "discourse of Jesus" in Matthew's Gospel (see Introduction). Jesus had his apostles proclaim the coming of the Kingdom; the first signs were seen: healings and victories over demons but opposition was not wanting and it would seem that on the whole, people did not respond. What must we think of this "Kingdom of God" which changes very little of real life? Matthew replies with the following seven parables.

Jesus uses comparisons just as simple country folk and working people usually do. Proverbs and parables have always been an effective way of teaching wisdom. But we must observe that a parable is not just any comparison; its characteristic is to awaken in the listeners an awareness of their present situation and oblige them to make a decision.

For those listening to Jesus, the reign of God signified first of all a liberation of his oppressed people, and this called for clear explanation. Jesus, for his part, could only give an answer to those who accompanied him; for the Kingdom is one of those things that cannot be seen as long as one has no belief in it. Jesus will only speak of it in images and we will understand according to the degree of our experience of that Kingdom which is developing throughout the world.

For this parable of the Sower which gives the general direction of this chapter, see the commentary of Mk 4:1 and Lk 8:4.

• 18. Who will welcome the Word of God? This has nothing to do with intelligence or ability to reflect, or interest in religious things: those who are open to hope receive the Word.

Those along the footpath are those not interested in the word they have received, perhaps because they cannot see further than their own interests (they are selfish), or perhaps they have taken another direction in life.

Next come those who do not dare to face contradiction and are easily discouraged and cowed: these are soon burnt. Yet to hope means to be firm despite any obstacle. If God puts us on a road in life, this road will lead somewhere. Hope is courage and endurance.

Next are those that fell among the thistles. They are believers, but the fruits to be harvested along the difficult path seem not to satisfy them. They want to "save their lives," to serve God and Money at the same time. They are dragged down by their aim of winning material success, and hope in the kingdom of God becomes but a flimsy desire for them.

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Comments from Wesley 

1. Scripture is a way to "awaken in the listeners an awareness of their present situation and oblige them to make a decision". And as soon as we can we back away from awareness and clarity to rules and certainty. Any poet/prophet worth their salt will tell you that they are the last one to try to make explicit what is implicit in their proclamation. To move from awakening to settled doctrine is to lose the life of the wind of the spirit that touches and blesses each seed on it way.

2. The New Interpreter's Bible comments: "The word 'parable' literally means  'to throw alongside' and underlines their comparative and revelatory function. These short narratives show something about God's empire by engaging the imagination and challenging conventional perspectives. They often draw from everyday, peasant life, but an unexpected twist underlines the surprising, gracious, demanding, and countercultural nature of God's reign."

The use of parables is as risky as anything. There is no guarantee they will awaken new life in a person. They are just as likely to disturb and make defensive those with a vested interest in the way things currently are arranged. Parables can come back to haunt with the imagery turned back on one. "Jesus, you are not even a blip on the radar; what you are doing and teaching is having no effect." "Jesus, you are the one without roots; see how you break our basic Sabbath rules." "Jesus, you are the weed among us; you have been listening to the wrong people and are setting yourself up for celebrity wealth." "Jesus, we are the ones that are flourishing; look at the Temple and Sacrifical System."

3. As important as the use and interpretation of parables might be, the verses left out (10-17) are equally important. To speak in parables is a gift of hospitality. It does not force an issue that is not ready to be faced. It doesn't posit a duality of right and wrong or insist that a side be taken.

The text suggests the reason for parables is to keep judgment coming on those who don't yet get it. This might be seen as simply a way of encouraging the disciples to continue wrestling with parabolic images, but the division this explanation sets up is not in accord with the spiritual growth processes of awakening or expanding our vision by paying attention to what is alongside as well as ahead.

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