The Sower (Part 2)

In Part 1 I mentioned that Jesus probably did not explain his own parables, and that the explanation was added later. Indulging my imagination, this blog explores something of what this process of adding explanations might have looked like. There is a great deal od redundancy between this blog and part 1, as the same theories as to what the parable might mean are included. However, I put these interpretations onto the lips of my fictional characters.

Keep your ears open – I include a short off-screen cameo by one of the Gospel writers. The story is set in a time around five years after Jesus’ Passion.

I, will let Judah our narrator take it from here…

Thank you, Steve,…

Jesus has been dead for five years now. We are a small group of his disciples that still live in the Galilee.

Some of us were with him for those three years – and some of us joined this group after the master was killed.

Sometimes we sit around the fire at night, and we tell the stories. There are many stories to tell, but my favorites are the parables Jesus taught. I love the discussion they often inspire.

Let me give you an example. Last night we were all gathered around the fire, and Rachel started things off – she said – “you remember when Jesus told the story about the man who sowed seeds?”

“Yes” shouted Ananias – “I love that story!”

“Yes” replied Rachel, “it was a good one.”

“Tell it Rachel – tell it. I don’t know that one,” replied young Jonathan. Jonathan is one of our newer members, who joined our community a few weeks ago. He is a keen learner and loves our group but does not know many of the stories yet.

So, Rachel begins the tale. “So, this is what Jesus said once,

“Behold, the sower went forth, he filled his hand, he cast. Some fell upon the road; the birds came and gathered them. Others fell on the rock and sent no root down to the earth nor did they sprout any ear up to heaven. And others fell on the thorns; they choked the seed, and the worm ate them. And others fell on the good earth, and brought forth good fruit unto heaven, some sixty -fold and some an hundred and twenty -fold.”[1]

“What does it mean?” asked Jonathan.

Rachel gave her typical sly smile, and asked, “What do you think it means?”

Jonathan looked puzzled. “I don’t know what it means, but that farmer was pretty careless with his seeds, I think.”

Rachel smiled again, “So you think it is a story about a thoughtless farmer who loses some of his crop through carelessness?”

Jonathan, smiled back at her, “maybe?”

Ananias jumped in, “But if that is what it means, then why is he rewarded at the end with such a wonderful harvest?”

Joseph piped in, “You know I was just thinking about this parable as I was reading the Isaiah scroll.”

Joseph had joined the group shortly after Jesus died. He was a scribe, and the only person in our community who can read and write. He continued;

“Isaiah wrote that God’s word was like rain; it shall not return to me empty,  but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,   and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.’[2] “For Isaiah, failure is simply not a possibility. God’s word simply will succeed and will not fail. Isaiah a harvest without loss.

But what if Isaiah is wrong? Maybe Jesus was telling a story about what we experience every day – that the success of the harvest only comes through loss? That sometimes, even the word of God itself fails, but that that failure was actually part of a bigger more important success. If this is true for God, how much more would it be true for us. We should not be discouraged because things go wrong but rest assured that there is a great harvest and a great celebration coming for us.”

Jonathan responded, “Joseph, I like that. It means that the things that go wrong are part of something bigger than themselves, and that failure itself a small but important part of success.”

Joseph said, “yes that’s right!”

Jonathan continued, “But in Isaiah the word of God was the water coming down from heaven. Does that mean that the word of God in Jesus’ story is the seed?

Ananaias responded, “Well I guess it could be…”

Joanna jumped in, “If the seed is the word of God, then what are the birds?

Jonathan responded, “Maybe the birds represent the evil one – Satan – and that the seed being eaten might represent what happens when the evil one comes and takes the seed away from us, through forgetfulness, or some other means.”

Ananaias offered a cautious, “Perhaps…”

Jonathan was on a roll now and continued, “The seed which fell on rocky ground – well that must represent what happens when someone with a hard heart hears the word. It grows for a while, but then dies when it becomes hard to follow Jesus for some reason.”

Joanna was less cautious than Ananaias, and said, “Yes that’s it!”

Jonathan continued, now encouraged by Joanna’s enthusiasm, “the seed in the thorns must represent what happens to seed when it must compete with other desires and preoccupations.”

Joanna nodded and agreed that the parable must mean something like this.

Joseph was silent as if he had been hit by lightning. “Jonathan” he said, “That is very profound.” I’m going to write that down so we don’t forget it. Brother Mark is coming for a visit next week, and I know he is thinking about putting all the stories of Jesus together in a single tale, I’ll tell him your interpretation when he comes.” And with that, Joseph quickly left the circle.

While everyone else was enthusiastic about Jonathan’s interpretation, Ananaias was visibly silent. He seemed to be troubled. Rachel noticed. “Ananaias,” she said, “it looks like you have something on your mind!”

“I do not want to disagree when everyone is so enthusiastic,” he responded.

Rachel continued, “No, Ananaias, it is only when all of us share what we have will we be the community that Jesus want us to be. So please tell us what is on your mind.”

“Okay”, said Ananaias, “but I don’t want to extinguish anyone’s enthusiasm. You see, I do not think that Jonathan is correct. You see, his interpretation shifts the focus of the story from the sower to the ground. It takes the parable and makes it all about how we respond to the word of God – which while important, is not really an important part of this tale. The story Jesus told is more about the sower than the seed. And, who is the sower? Us? God? Jesus?

And the conversation continued like this for hours. At the end of the night many of us had more questions than answers, but somehow in the midst of it all, we were slowly getting to know this Jesus we were following a bit better – and likewise, we were also getting to know each other better. The conversation is the thing; we have to keep talking. How great and wonderful it is to have a great conversation, and how much more wonderful when it is about something like the Parables.

[1] The Gospel of Thomas 9. This version might be more original than the version found in the Canonical Gospels – and interestingly, it has no explanation.

[2] Isa 55:10-11.

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