Monday, December 23, 2013

Parable of the hearers...

Week 52:

This week’s Devotional Thought comes from guest writer Mark Dean.  Mark is a former missionary to Santiago, Chile.  Mark is currently a Bible Teacher at Midland Christian School in Midland, TX.  For several years, Mark has been a student of Ray Vander Laan, a Jewish Roots Scholar.  Mark studies the Hebrew Jesus and shares unique insights into whom Jesus was and is.

Matthew 13:3-9 3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

Jesus told parables. As Western, modern Christians, we tend to think that his parables are significant because they originate with him and He just happens to be the son of God.  Even when we don’t understand his parables, (and a parable was meant to be a version of the main point even a child could understand) we believe them to be important by proxy; that is, they are significant because of who said them.  But to consider Jesus’ parables important without understanding them is counter-intuitive. 
To what may the understanding of Jesus’ parables be compared?  Take, for instance, a man who owned an orchard of apple trees.  As the man grew older, the harvest each year grew less and less.  The worse his senses grew, the worse the produce.  It was as if he and the orchard were connected.  Nearly blind, his aged wife accompanied him to the eye doctor one day.  He was issued a pair of glasses.  Suddenly that year’s harvest was overflowing.  Truth be told, the harvest never decreased, only the man’s ability to see the green apples against the backdrop of green leaves.  The only apples he was able to see before he got his glasses were the red ones.   

Sometimes, the only words we see as important in the Bible are the red ones.  But to only harvest the red ones is to miss a large portion of the harvest.  In other words, reading the New Testament without the Old is tantamount to giving someone the last three chapters of a novel and expecting them to understand and appreciate the entire story.  The parable of the sower may have originated with Jesus, but the structure he used did not.  In the sower parable, Jesus is speaking to his talmidim (disciples) about four types of hearers.  The number four in rabbinic teaching is the number of hearing/doing.  Hearing is equivalent to doing in Jewish thought. 

I used to picture the field where the parable of the sower took place like the huge cornfields of Nebraska.  I imagined a wide road separating fields with large rocks on one side and thorns on the other.  It wasn’t until I actually saw the fields in Israel that the sower scattering the seed made sense.  The fields are very narrow and long and the rocks, which form a boundary between the fields, are relatively small.  And the thorns, the thorns are everywhere.  In the rocks, on the narrow paths separating the fields and in the fields themselves.  So it’s all right there together.

The entire parable of the sower is not about the sower.  It’s about the soils.  There are four types of hearers or receivers of the word...and if the seed only takes root among the good soil to produce a crop.  And if in order to get to the good soil the farmer has to burn of the thorns, remove the rocks and fertilize it, what are the implications of getting our hearts to become good soil? 

Some of you may have heard of Ray Vander Laan or RVL.  He’s a Jewish Roots guy from Michigan, an author, historian and passionate teacher.  My wife Denise and I got to go with him to Israel in 2009.  While walking through grain fields in Nazareth, we stopped at a certain field.  The faith lesson was on the parable of the “sower.”  That is a misnomer, which leads us to think it has something to do with the seed caster when in reality, it has little to do with him and everything to do with where the seed lands.  Thus, as author Brad Young suggests, it should be called the parable of the hearers. 

After RVL told us how much work it is to prepare a field for planting, what with burning off all the thorns and thistles that have grown up with the previous season’s wheat and then digging out all the rocks the rains have revealed at the surface of the top soil, all 60 of us stepped into the field and began to remove the rocks.  Rocks were a picture of those things in our lives that hinder the rooting and growth of the seed.  And let me tell you from experience, there were thousands and thousands of rocks in that one little field.  While digging out fist-sized rocks and chucking them into the piles that form the field’s boarders, RVL told us the story of a man in their group on a similar trip a few years earlier.  He started to dig up what he thought to be a fairly small rock.  As he brushed the dirt away, more of the rock was discovered.  Undeterred, he began to frantically sweep soil and pull weeds out of the way until the rock he was uncovering showed its immense size.  After about half an hour, others in the group noticed that the man was sobbing.  They offered to help him but the man refused.  He finally unearthed the huge rock and by himself hoisted it up and staggered over to the rock pile with it.  After he dropped it he told the group that he alone needed to do it because it was “his” rock.  That rock represented for him the broken relationship with his father that he had let decay to the point of no return.  He was determined to remove that rock no matter what and only he and the Lord were capable of restoring the relationship to its proper place.  It was an amazing lesson told in picture of how our hearts are also fields.  The word of God cannot be fully sown or produce a good crop until we do the hard work of removing the thorns and rocks from the soil of our hearts.

1.      How much work is it to prepare our fields?
2.      What kinds of things in our lives would be represented by the thorns or rocks?
3.      Some rocks are too big to remove by ourselves and so a community is needed to help.  Do you have a community that is willing to do the hard work of digging up and casting out rocks in your life? 

4.      How easy is it to sit back and criticize the sermon on a given Sunday, after lunch or at home after church?  My question to you; how much work did you first do on your own field to prepare it to receive the word that Sunday?  My guess is that if little work was done to remove your thorns and rocks in your field, what right do you have to criticize the man who spent the entire week preparing the seed of his sermon and praying for the hearts who would receive it!

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1 comment:

  1. That was really insightful, I really enjoyed reading this! I love being able to see these things uncovered the way it was intended to be understood with the knowledge of Jewish roots. Thanks for sharing.