Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Parable of the Sower

By Jonathan Mitchell

When Jesus explained the parable of the sower, He interpreted the first section - (Matt. 13:4) of the seed falling on the path, or alongside the road, and the birds coming and eating the seeds - in verse 19, where the birds are explained as symbolizing what is commonly translated "the evil one." Now this is a correct translation, however, the Greek word here, poneros, has a much wider meaning and application than just "the evil one" or, "the wicked one."

In Christian tradition, we often hear a second level of interpretation, that "the evil one" refers to the devil, or satan. The next step is to apply all or part of the common myth or traditional theology about the devil (or, satan) to the context where we find the word poneros.

So in Matt. 13:19, we then begin to picture some dark spirit operating in the heart of the person whose "soil" is like the trodden path. Satan is lurking there, gobbling up the seeds of the Word (or, the message of the kingdom), so that it will not take root in his heart. Wow! What a picture: satan, the devil, feeding on the Word of God! Now that is quite a thought - if that be the case.

But lets look at the context of what prevents other seeds from being productive, when landing on the other types of soil. The hindrance in the "rocky soil" is the pressure and tribulation, along with persecution (vs. 21). The hindrance in the soil overgrown with "thorns" is "the anxiety (care; worry; concern; distraction) of the age [other MSS: this age], and the seductiveness and deception of the riches and wealth [involved]" (vs. 22). Now both of these hindrances are the common situations that we all face in life. They are not necessarily the work of a primordial dark spirit that is working against the kingdom of God. They are simply aspects of the environment into which we have been born. So why should we presume that the soil which is downtrodden has the devil working in its heart? By choosing the other meanings of poneros in translating verse 19, I perceive a situation which is more in line with the hindrances of vs. 21 and 22. Thus, my translation:

Vs. 19. "Concerning everyone constantly listening to and hearing the Word (or: the thought; the idea) of the sovereign reign (or: the message of the kingdom) and yet continuing in not understanding (being unable to have things flow together unto comprehension): the worthless person or the disadvantageous circumstance (or: the one who brings pain and misery through hard labor; the malevolent and wicked man; the evil one; or: the difficult and wearisome situation) is repeatedly coming and is habitually snatching up what has been sown (scattered as seed) within his heart - this is the one sown alongside the path (or: road)."

Now here are conditions to which we all can relate. We see a person whose heart has been downtrodden and is now hard. The message can not penetrate him to where he can understand it. Perhaps he is like the one prophesied about by Isaiah, in vs. 15, " For the heart of this people was made thick and fat, and thus has become impervious, dull and insensitive, and with the ears they hear heavily, and are thus hard of hearing, and they shut (or: closed) their eyes."

The "worthless person (poneros)" may be his associate who mocks such ideas about Christ and the kingdom of God. The "disadvantageous circumstances (poneros)" may be the atheistic education in which he was reared, or his drug-addiction, or her domestic abuse, or the years of poverty.

Such things, I suggest, fit better with the contexts of the other soil conditions. The birds represent adverse conditions and situation encountered in this life. If Father has not yet plowed up our downtrodden heart-paths, our associates or our environments can rob us of His words of life.

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