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We now move to the parables that are found at Matthew 13. The first of them is the parable of the sower, seeds, and soils. Jesus tells the parable to a crowd that has gathered on the beach while He sits in a boat. In the story He describes a common sight in ancient Galilee–a sower sowing seed. The sower scatters the seed on the ground, and not very carefully. The waste would not be a common sight; seed is valuable. The careless distribution represents a disruption of a common, daily scene in Palestine. It should jolt us into the world of the parable and its extraordinary message.
The first of the seed falls on a path where birds quickly retrieve it. Seed is also scattered on rocky and thorn-infested ground. Finally, seed falls on good soil, producing a bumper crop. After telling the parable, Jesus calls the people to attend to what he says.
The parable itself contains a message that the people don’t seem to understand. We know this; because, Jesus gives a certain answer to the disciples who ask, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” Jesus tells them that the disciple has been given knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven; but, not all have been given such. It may be perplexing to the reader that Jesus would keep salvation from any one; but, He seems to be doing exactly that. Knowledge of the kingdom is a gift that some have been given and others have not. In the Gospel no explanation is elaborated for this fact.
Matthew then cites words of Jesus not found in Mark and Luke: “For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” (Matthew 13:12 ESV) The parables function to keep some people from knowing the secrets or mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. It is a troubling verse, but is not to be explained away. It is not the fault of Jesus or His message that many do not hear and receive the message. It is the non-receptivity of Christ’s gracious and merciful message that prevents them from participating in the kingdom of heaven.
The same saying about giving and taking away is expressed later in the Gospel in another parable where a man entrusts his servants with money during his absence so that he can acquire greater wealth. Two servants invested their share and increased their master’s wealth. The third servant buried his and made nothing more. The master dispossessed the servant of the one talent and had him thrown into the outer darkness. The master said to the servant, “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have abundance, but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” (Matthew 25: 29 ESV) This parable is found in the context of judgment at the end of time. We may understand the earlier parable in Matthew 13 as pointing to the judgment where the faithful who represent the good soil bring forth a rich harvest. One could assume that the harvest has to do with both those who accept Jesus’ message and the fruit produced from that acceptance.
Matthew uses the word, fruit, more often than Mark and Luke. John the Baptist calls people to bear good fruit in light of the prospect of the judgment of God. Those trees that do not bear good fruit are thrown into the fire. In The Sermon on the Mount, Jesus contrasts the tree that bears good fruit with the tree that bears bad fruit. The disciple who bears good fruit does the will of the Father in heaven. Those that do not bear good fruit are thrown into the fire. The theme of bearing fruit is found in the context of judgment.
Responsibility for not understanding the parables is placed in the laps of the people. It is the people who have dull hearts; they neither see not hear. To those who hear, understanding comes as a gift from God. Despite all of the wasted seed, the harvest is superabundant. Our proclamation will have a great effect, even if the actual numbers are modest. Christ’s message always has very productive results.
Michael G. Tavella
January 29, 2024