XIII. Teaching beside the Sea
48. The Parable of the Sower
1Jesus began to teach beside the Sea of Galilee. A very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea; and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land.
2And he taught them many things in parables,a and in his teaching he said to them, 3“Listen! A sower went out to sow, 4and as he sowed some seed fell along the path, and birds came and devoured it. 5Other seed fell on rocky ground where it had not much soil, and immediately it sprang up since it had no depth of soil, 6but when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root it withered away. 7Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it and it yielded no grain. 8And other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold, and sixtyfold, and a hundredfold. 9He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
(Mk. 4:1–8; Mt. 13:9) (continued)
a “And he taught them many things in parables"—At this time Jesus suddenly initiates a wholly new form of teaching—the parable. The Parable of the Sower is Jesus' first recorded parable and it is immediately followed by numerous other parables. Jesus continued to teach in parables throughout the remainder of his earth ministry and his last parable (The Parable of the Talents) was spoken just three days before his death.
Parables introduce spiritual truth by moving from the known (natural and material world) to the unknown (spiritual and supermaterial world). They use the analogy existing between the natural and the spiritual to teach the truths of the kingdom.
Parables encourage critical thinking and creative imagination, but they should not be approached as allegories where each individual detail holds some definite and hidden meaning. Although the individual hearer is free to assign special meaning to particular aspects of a parable, they should be thought of as simple stories that are designed to portray one essential and vital truth. For example, in The Parable of the Sower, even though specific interpretations are offered, the thrust of the parable is to teach that varying degrees of success may be expected by those who seek to minister the gospel of the kingdom.
Parables, as used by Jesus, possess a number of important advantages:
(1) Parables tell simple stories that are easy to understand. They use imagery and situations that are familiar. Thus they are well adapted to the minds and comprehension of the listeners.
(2) Parables appeal to a wide variety of intellects and temperaments, and leave each individual free to interpret the parable in accordance with his or her own mental and spiritual endowments.
(3) Parables arouse a minimum of self-defense and other negative attitudes that close the mind to new truth. They evade personal prejudice and make it easy to receive spiritual truth that one might otherwise have been unwilling to accept.
(4) To reject the truth contained in parables forces one into conflict with one's own honest judgment and fair decision. Parables stimulate thinking and tend to force thought to the desired conclusion.
(5) Parables enabled Jesus to teach new truth while avoiding any outward clashing with established authority and tradition. (See also Ch. 48, fn. b.)
Mk. 4:1 Jesus began / Again he began (RSV) • Sea of Galilee. / sea. (RSV) • A very / And a very (RSV)
Mk. 4:6 but when / and when (RSV) (151:1/1688–9)