He returned to the sea to teach, and such a huge mob gathered that he got into a boat in the water and sat there while the mob remained on shore. He taught them by telling them stories. Here’s what he taught them:
“Listen up! A gardener went out to plant some seeds. And as he scattered seeds, some fell on the road where the birds came and ate them. Other seeds landed in the gravel where they started growing quickly, but with no soil to sustain them. In the heat of the summer they got sun-scorched, and with no roots they wilted. Other seeds landed in the weeds, where they were choked off and never amounted to anything. Other seeds landed in good soil and produced food. Those seeds grew and yielded some thirty-, some sixty-, and some a hundred-to-one what the gardener started with. Anyone with ears can understand this.”
Parables are generally thought of as “earthly stories with heavenly meanings.” But they’re not. They are apocalyptic stories.
As Ched Myers explained (see Binding the Strong Man, Orbis, 1988) a typical sharecropper in Jesus’ Palestine could expect, in a good year, a 7 to 1 return for his harvest. That was just enough to keep him entrapped on the land, working it for the landowner’s benefit. A 30 to 1 yield would be enough for the sharecropper to pay off his debt and buy his own land, to be for the first time, free.
Think about the consequences to that society, or any society, or our society, if suddenly everyone had the wherewithal to pay off their credit cards, pay off their mortgage and quit their jobs to work for themselves.
Imagine the economic upheaval that would happen:
- The collapse of the banks, and the whole monetary system based on debt.
- McDonald’s and Walmart would actually have to pay a living wage to keep employees on the job.
- Nike and Old Navy, who make their products in third world sweatshops, and claim they are doing those people a favor would find all of a sudden “those people” whose only option had been to work for them as slaves could afford to simply walk out.
And what’s true for this parable is true of all the parables. They’re not about pie in the sky. They’re about what would happen if all the people who said they followed Jesus really did.
The problem (and this is another reality the parable addressees) is that so many seeds (would-be followers of Jesus) never amount to anything. And that’s apocalyptic, too.