the sower

Shirley writes:
Jesus was the Master Teacher, and His parables will no doubt endure through the ages. Ever read the 4th chapter of Mark verse 12? I can’t get a handle on that, for it is impossible that it means what I understand it to say.

I couldn’t agree more with the idea that Jesus is the Master Teacher. I understand your confoundment with Mark 4:12. Taken as it is, Jesus is saying he taught in parables
12so that,
   ” ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving,
      and ever hearing but never understanding;
   otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!'”
This would seem to indicate that the Master Teacher is either being deliberately obtuse with his teachings to the people or incredibly sarcastic to his disciples. In either case, it doesn’t quite seem to jibe with the whole Master Teacher thing, which certainly should be troubling. However, when put into the context of the larger passage, which is the tale of the Parable of the Sower, the rebuke seems to make more sense:

Mark 4: 1Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. 2He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: 3“Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. 8Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times.” 
 9Then Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” 
 10When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. 11He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables 12so that,
   ” ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving,
      and ever hearing but never understanding;
   otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!'” 
 13Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? 14The farmer sows the word. 15Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. 16Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. 17But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 18Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; 19but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. 20Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown.”

But still, even in the larger context of the entirety of the passage, Jesus seems to be saying that he teaches in parables to conceal the truth from the crowds. This is why the existence of four Gospels is of particular significance and benefit to us. The Gospels are distinctly individual documents produced by people who certainly knew the Apostles at the very least, though it’s impossible to say who exactly wrote them, with the exception of Luke. He is obviously the author of Acts and Luke, but in his introduction to the Gospel of Luke he makes it exceedingly clear that he is not one of the original Apostles who personally knew Jesus.

Luke 1: 1Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, 2just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. 3Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

In any case, when reading the Parable of the Sower in Mark, it is most beneficial to read the Parable of the Sower in Matthew. Here it is in it’s entirety. Pay particular attention to verses 10-17:

Matthew 13: 1That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9He who has ears, let him hear.” 
 10The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” 
 11He replied, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. 13This is why I speak to them in parables:
   “Though seeing, they do not see;
      though hearing, they do not hear or understand. 14In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:
   ” ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
      you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
 15For this people’s heart has become calloused;
      they hardly hear with their ears,
      and they have closed their eyes.
   Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
      hear with their ears,
      understand with their hearts
   and turn, and I would heal them.’16But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. 17For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it. 
 18“Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. 22The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. 23But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

For me, Matthew makes more sense and Mark becomes clearer. When one looks at Luke 8, which contains his version of the Parable of the Sower, it is obvious that he looked to Mark to get his version of the story. The story cannot be found at all in John, which should not be surprising as this is the most radically different and most likely last of the Gospels to be written. The version in Matthew is actually one of my favorite passages for a variety of reasons, but not the least of which is that Jesus quotes Isaiah in it. (If nothing else, it makes me feel better about using Scripture to explain Scripture.) In Matthew, it becomes clear that Jesus is not saying that he teaches in parables to make people blind and deaf to the truth, but that people were already blind and deaf to the truth and that teaching in parables was a way to get around these obstacles. Jesus knew that simply speaking the truth was not enough. Consider it this way; God, Truth and Heaven are words that everybody knows but inside of us we all have different definitions of what they mean. Everyone listening to Jesus knows what seed, soil, and harvest means. The direct truth when spoken aloud can sound like unbottled madness or blasphemy to an uncareful ear but a clever and clear story can make the listener wiser without them even realizing they’ve been schooled. Jesus clearly understood that if only one person in any given multitude really understood the message, than ultimately many more times that multitude would get the Good News. That you and I are discussing the words He spoke that day He sat in a boat and lectured the crowd on the shore is proof that He was right.
God bless you,

25 Responses to “the sower”

  1. I frequently think you are the one who should be in seminary. This is one of those times. Since you are in such an exegetical mood, perhaps you could help me with my paper on 1 Cor 6: 9-11. 🙂

  2. Kenny-
    You couldn’t make me go to seminary at gunpoint, but thank you very much. I’m at work now, but I’ll see what I can do about those darn Corinthians! 😉

  3. In Romans 11 Paul describes the disobedience and hardened hearts of the Jews, and also says that this fulfilled OT prophecies. Romans 11 fits perfectly with your explanation of Mark 4:12. Paul points out the the hardened hearts of all but a remnant of Israel was a blessing for the Gentiles, a “reconciliation of the world,” and that “Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.”

    Christianity did indeed escape the fate of becoming just another ethnic cult.

  4. Batman,
    Jesus really thought it was funny when people called their brothers and sisters retarded. Don’t we all recall that wonderful passage from the book of Michael? 5:61:’And then Jesus told a bunch of Samartain jokes, and said that individual Samaritains were okay, but he just didn’t care for them as a group. 62Then he called Peter retarded and Thomas laughed so hard that wine came out his nose. 63Jesus sneered.’

  5. Kenny-
    I think what you’re looking for is in Matthew 5:21-42. Also, I would not discuss I Corinthians 6:9-11 without taking into careful account what I Corinthians 6:1-8 says as well. The passage is a specific rebuke against Christians who were behaving badly towards each other.

    Michael, there’s a bit there in the middle of Matthew 5 (verse 22) that you might want to share with the Innocent Bystanders. At the very least, you might want to check out I Corinthians 1-11 as well.

  6. To be clear, Paul’s point in Romans 11 was that he lamented the condition of his own people at his time, hoped to save as many as possible, regarded them as having a peculiar election in God’s plan of salvation, and cautioned Christians that they dare not disparage the status of God’s Chosen People.

    Tinman: Regarding the Corinthians passage — bear in mind that Paul has made it absolutely clear that righteousness occurs by faith apart from the Law, without any merit on our part, and notwithstanding that the condition of sin (the “Old Adam”) remains within us. Here he is concerned that Christians will abuse their Christian freedom on the basis that “all things are lawful” as some Corinthians were doing, and thus exhorts them to a pure life. The passage speaks to the doctrine of sanctification, not of justification.

    Regarding the condemnation of homosexuality, keep in mind that homosexual practices were closely associated with pagan cults of the day, along with many other vices that he names. Paul wanted Christians to be recognizable as not “of the world” and to distinguish themselves by pious behavior. He was grappling with a fundamental problem — having declared the vicarious justification accomplished by the sacrifice of Christ, the Church still needs to discourage licentious behavior that distances us from Christ and retards our sanctification.

  7. By the way — Hi Shirley! I’m mostly commenting here because you showed up with this question about an admittedly difficult remark by Jesus. If memory serves, you visited Innocent Bystanders because I first visited your blog when you wondered aloud whether Jesus was capable of sinning. (The answer is yes, as I opined at the time on your blog.) I still lurk on your blog regularly and enjoy the posts on your travels and so forth, and can easily understand that the rowdy ambiance of IB is not the right place for you.

    When I’m retired (not so far away), I hope I can have as much fun as you do.

  8. Batman,
    Thank you for your pompous blovations and attempts at cordiality. Sadly, you have been repeatedly unmasked. Your refusal to address me only underscores your insincerity. Did you tire of playing with the children and now want to talk with the grownups? Well, first you’ll have to take off that ridiculous costume and start acting like a man. A good start on that would be calling out the racism in the comments you ‘moderate’ rather than giggling at them.

  9. Batman, Jesus really thought it was funny . . .


    Your gibes at me in this thread and others are pointless. I’m not going to take the bait, because an acrimonious exchange with you would not amuse me. You provoked Mr. Minority to anger (not that hard, actually), and that was funny. Amish outraged you, and that was funny. I made sarcastic remarks about you which you took to be “syncophantic,” and that was funny. But give it a rest.

  10. Batman,
    I did give it a rest and you came over here and started commenting. So, if you’re not going to take the bait, a) why are you here, and b) why are you addressing me directly if you haven’t taken the bait? I look at all these words you’ve posted here for my benefit and I think that I’ve got you hooked pretty deep.
    Tug, tug.

  11. BTW, I think you meant to say bloviations.


  12. Batman-
    I have begun intentionally misspelling words in order to give you something to say.

  13. I’m sorry, the above should have read,
    eye half beegun intenshionally mishpelling wurdz in order 2 gif u sumting 2 thay.

  14. Dammit.
    Above, the words, ‘in order’ should read ‘en odor’.
    All apologies.

  15. Tinman: Paul’s concern for sexual sins in this passage should also be understood in the context that Corinth was a port town which was famous for a grand temple that was basically a brothel. The “priestesses” were prostitutes.

  16. Batman-
    Why are you so focused on hookers? Is that one of those insider conservative things I don’t get?

  17. Sorry you had to wait on the last one. I’m making a pizza and watching season 4 of ‘Mr Show’ and completely forgot about you for five minutes. I see you’re Batman-on-the-spot. Good thing you haven’t taken the bait.

  18. BTW-Shirley is out of town for a funeral and it’s long past Kenny’s bedtime. I get very little traffic here. I like it that way. My site is a million times more ‘private’ than yours but I don’t entertain delusions that I’m not speaking in public and should be held to some special standard simply because I feel entitled. I can and will defend everything I write or create and post for my audience of perhaps dozens of people to anyone who challenges it, which is a hell of a lot more than you can say for whay you allow to go on at your site. So please, feel free to shout to whomever you like but right now we are the only people in here. You can talk to me or continue to act the fool as you like. The choice is yours.

  19. Just you and me? I really just wanted to say hi to Shirley. Oh well.

    Winston, IB is not really my site like a conventional blog, although I am the legal owner. It’s a group effort, which attracts far more than the “dozens” of readers you get. It purports to be something like a chat room posing as a blog. Our brand is the conceit that we are a “commenters site.” We do indeed speak in public, but we appeal to a niche audience that is largely an antechamber for long-time AOSHQ commenters, where the conversation is much rougher. I regulate with a light hand. I have no need to approve or defend everything that gets published there.

    But, I do have limits. FYI, I deleted two comments by Amish tonight which were over-the-top profane jokes about Jesus on the light switch thread which I deemed to be offensive to many of our readers.

  20. It’s nice to know that your limits don’t exclude racism and that your ‘niche’ audience includes racists, to say nothing of the vile way the listed bloggers there talk about handicapped people. (And not just to me. I saw what Lauraraw wrote on that ‘warhater’ guy’s site and it was repellent. Cuffy likes to post pictures of people with Down’s Syndrome in association with people he doesn’t like {not just me}, so you know he’s not being very flattering to these truly innocent bystanders.) I think Jesus could take a joke. I find it odd that you’ll be disturbed by some clod’s jeers at the Personification of God but not when that clod jeers at the weak and powerless (who, incidentally, the Personification of God seemed to be quite concerned with while He was here). That you have far more traffic than I only means that your responsibility for what passes for conversation at your site is far greater than mine. You act like you understand what this post is about but what about the seed that you are sowing? What kind of garden are you running over there? If hundreds of thousands of people are visiting your site they’re seeing that’s it’s just hilarious and okey-dokey to act like a racist and call be people ‘retards’ and ‘faggots’ as insult. I’m not telling you what to believe, say, or do, but I will point out that what you say or do is the best indicator of what a person really believes. It’s all fine and dandy to quote scripture, but everyone knows even the devil can do that.
    I have to leave the computer for a while but am glad to so with us talking reasonably. I prefer that. I’m not trolling your site. I honestly was brought there through the wordpress dashboard link at my sign in on both occasions because I found the title of the post intriguing, so you are doing something right.

  21. FYI, Winston, the “Wahrheiter” blog (the name is German for “truth speaker) was set up on WordPress by one of my regulars (it takes about 90 seconds) for the sole purpose of teasing you the last time you appeared at IB. All of the comments there are parodies. They are just jokes about your silly reaction to us.

  22. All that work for my benefit and I only visited there for 90 seconds? I’ve had you in here all night without any effort at all.
    Tug, tug.

  23. Tug, tug.

    Well heck, my blog is dead at the moment and I really do think you’re funny, for a guy who can’t spell and is incredibly gullible.

  24. Well, if my capering keeps you entertained, then I have done my job.

  25. Thank you, sir, and good night.

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