LOAF Sermon: Luke 8.5-8. The Parable of the Seeds
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Sermon: Luke 8.5-8. The Parable of the Seeds.
by: Rev Christine Jones
When I read or hear the parable of the sower a particular picture comes to mind. I imagine Jesus standing with the disciples, and others gathering to listen to him. As he begins to speak he looks up onto the hills and sees a sower casting his seed: it was a visual aid in practice and Jesus uses the sower to illustrate the Kingdom.
What was it Jesus was saying? I have often heard the parable explained in a spiritual way – the idea being that the way people respond to the Gospel is represented by the different area in which the seed is sown. So, for example when the seed is sown and rocky ground and the birds take it away, this is explained as people who don’t accept the word of God, and it can’t take root. This is an important insight and a challenge to our twentieth century life style.
But as with all good tales this story could have more than one way of understanding it.
Herzog (Jesus Justice and the Reign of God) helps us to look at the socio-political background at the time of Jesus. He describes the oppression by the Romans; the brutal oppression of Jewish uprisings: the brutality of the Herodian rulers: the burdensome taxation which helped to cause real poverty and hardship. He suggests reading the parable against that background.
So the parable of the sower takes on a different and subversive message. It is a parable about Domination: The sower sows the seed and the birds come and take it away. In biblical times ‘birds’ was a code for the gentiles. Is it beyond the realms of possibility that Jesus is suggesting that although the ordinary people sowed the seed to try and eke out a livelihood, it was being taken, through land seizure and taxation by the Romans and their supporters.
Such a reading has contemporary overtones – recently I received a letter from the World Development Movement. It was asking for support to help persuade the UK Government to stop funding the corporate take over of water. Aid that has been given to provide water for poor people is being diverted into the hands of multi-nationals.
Water is needed desperately in developing countries – Jesus could still talk of the birds of the air coming and devouring the living of the poor, monopolising the most basic natural resource for corporate gain.
In the parable we are told of the weeds that choke the seed. Herzog (p.194) explains that as the farmers gathered the crops the henchmen of Herod would be there at the threshing floor to take their tributes, rents and taxes. Again there are contemporary overtones – leaving the train station the other day I saw a poster of a parking meter. The caption indicated that it got paid more in one hour than a large percentage of the world’s population does in a day. This understanding of the parable raises issues of international fair trade: workers exploitation in Britain and in the developing world. It raises ecological questions about multi-nationals and cash crops and how local people should be able to use their land.
Finally the parable talks about some seed falling on good ground and producing a good crop.
This radical reading of the Gospel story suggests that if the exploitation is not taking place: if land (or water) is not being monopolised: if poor people are not having to pay out unreasonable taxes so finance can’t be ploughed back into the land, then the land can produce sufficient for all. The parable therefore is about justice, justice for the poor and an ecological justice.