1-3 The Sower Parable
The sower parable has 75% of the seed sowed on bad ground, due to the
almost fanatic way the sower throws the seed so far and wide, evidently
without too much attention to whether it lands on responsive soil or not.
His emphasis was clearly on broadcasting the seed far and wide, rather
than sowing like any normal sower would do. This taught that even if some
preaching work appears not to bear fruit, this shouldn't discourage us
from the essentially outgoing spirit we should have in spreading the word
far and wide. To reach “all men” must be our brief; all types of men and
women, including those who are obviously going to respond poorly
(1). Yet the parable talks of one grain of corn that yields
one hundredfold (Mk. 4:8). Any farmer would pick up on this impossibility.
An average yield in 1st century Palestine was about ten fold
(2). What kind of response was this? What kind
of grain of corn? Clearly, the Lord Jesus- who described Himself in John's
record as the grain of corn that was to fall into the ground and bring
forth much fruit. But the other grains of corn yielded 30 and 60 fold.
This was quite amazing response too, totally unheard of in practice. Was
it not that the Lord was trying to show us just how radically His Gospel
can transform human life? Amazing fertility was a feature of the future
Messianic Kingdom (Amos 9:13; Jer. 31:27; Ez. 36:29,30)- it’s as if the
Lord is saying in the sower parable that the abundance of the future Kingdom
can begin in human life now.
In another parable, the mustard seed becomes a tree so big that all the
birds of the air can live in it (Mk. 4:32). But mustard trees aren't this
big. Surely the point is that the small seed of the Gospel produces a
quite out of proportion result- by reading literature, spotting a press
advertisement, getting baptized...we will by grace become part of the
Kingdom of God, and provide shelter to the nations of this world. This
is the extraordinary power of the Gospel. This is how far it will take
us, and the extent to which we can, through the Gospel, become saviours
of men. The Gospel which we preach is likened to yeast- in itself a startling
comparison- because it is through our humanity that we will influence
others, by being our real, human selves. Yet the woman mixing yeast is
preparing a huge amount of bread, according to the specifications in Mt.
13:33. This is perhaps to show us that whilst our influence may be quiet
and unseen, the quietest witness can have a huge influence.
The parable of the wheat and weeds features another unlikely happening.
Someone sows weed seeds on top of the wheat seeds. The farm workers who
were sleeping aren’t upbraided as we might expect. The weeds can’t be
uprooted because the roots are intertwined; and anyone walking into the
field to remove them would trample the wheat. So how, therefore, can they
be rooted up at the time of the harvest? It can only be by some super-human
reapers- i.e. the Angels. It is totally and utterly beyond us
to do the uprooting. And yet this obvious meaning has still not been perceived
by many of us.
There is a fine point of translation in Lk. 8:8 which needs to be
appreciated: “As he said these things, he cried, He that
hath ears to hear, let him hear” (ASV and Greek). It seems that
the Lord was ‘throwing out’ this challenge several times, as He
spoke the parable. As the sower sows seed, so the Lord was challenging
His hearers to decide what type of ground they were, as they heard
(1) In fairness, this parable can be
read another way. In Palestine, sowing precedes ploughing. The sower sows
on the path which the villagers have beaten over the stubble, since he
intends to plough up the path with the rest of the field. He sows amongst
thorns because they too will be ploughed in. And it has been suggested
that the rocky ground was land with underlying limestone which barely
shows above the surface.
(2) This has been carefully worked out
by R.K. McIver ‘One Hundred-Fold Yield’, New Testament Studies
Vol. 40 (1994) pp. 606-608.