Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.
 

The parable of the sower

Expand Messages
  • Joseph Codsi
    WHAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN UNITED HAS BEEN DIVIDED What interests me in the parable of the sower as it is reported in GMark is the fact that Jesus is said to have
    Message 1 of 3 , Jul 1, 2005
      WHAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN UNITED HAS BEEN DIVIDED

      What interests me in the parable of the sower as it is reported in GMark
      is the fact that Jesus is said to have reserved the explanation of the
      "riddle" to the inner circle of the privileged few, identified as the
      Twelve and a few other persons. This is what we are told. But is this
      believable?

      I have no problem with what we are told about the privileged treatment
      the inner circle of the disciples enjoyed. Unlike the big crowds, the
      members of the inner circle had the opportunity to be alone with Jesus
      and to have more intimate exchanges with him. What I find unlikely,
      though, is that Jesus would tell his large audience a riddle they had no
      way of resolving.

      This leads me to believe that Jesus had originally told the parable
      together with its explanation. The story was changed later to produce
      what we have now in GMark.

      Let us explore together this possibility.

      * * *

      THE DUAL MEANING OF THE WORD "PARABLE"

      In Mark's fourth chapter, the word "parable" is used in two meanings.
      Normally a parable is an analogy which helps understand the spiritual
      reality of the Kingdom. But when the parable of the sower is told
      without its explanation, it becomes a riddle. Instead of helping
      understand the spiritual message, it obscures it. This amounts to a
      radical corruption of the concept and of the entire operation.

      DID JESUS SPEAK SO THAT PEOPLE WOULD NOT UNDERSTAND HIM?

      Was he so contemptuous of the crowds who came to hear him as to throw at
      them bones that had no meat on them? The evidence is overwhelmingly
      against this allegation.

      In the conclusion of the parabolic discourse, Mark writes:

      ***With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able
      to hear it.*** (Mk 4:33)

      This implies that Jesus spoke the word in such a way as to make it
      understandable. He used the parables correctly, as analogies which were
      particularly conducive to help the audience understand the spiritual
      realities about which he was instructing them.

      Matthew ends his version of the parabolic discourse in the following
      way, Jesus asks the audience: "have you understood all this?" The answer
      is, "Yes" (cf. Mt 13:51). Matthew has said explicitly what is said
      implicitly in Mark. The parables are used to reveal what is hidden. When
      the parabolic discourse become so obscure that it turns nonsensical,
      something is clearly wrong.

      Let us widen the circle of our investigation. When Mark summarizes the
      way Jesus related to the public, he says that "they were astounded at
      his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the
      scribes" (Mk 1:22). This implies that Jesus knew how to communicate with
      his audience. The public would not admire someone who would tell riddles
      that made no sense.

      A CLEAR CONTRADICTION

      The dual meaning of the word "parable" and the strange behavior of the
      Markan Jesus who reserves the explanation of the parable to the inner
      circle of the Twelve create a tension in the text. We are confronted
      here with a contradiction. The contradiction is in the text. I am not
      inventing it.

      What matters at this initial stage of our investigation is the
      recognition of the contradiction. It would be still premature to try and
      resolve the riddle. Let us continue with our investigation of the Markan
      text.

      A CONTRADICTION OF ANOTHER KIND

      Let us turn our attention to verses 10-12, which divide the parable in
      two parts.

      ***10 When he was alone, those who were around him with the Twelve asked
      him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, "To you has been given
      the mystery of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything
      comes in parables (riddles); 12 in order that <<they may indeed look,
      but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand; so that
      they may not turn again and be forgiven.>>***

      The question in verse 10 asks Jesus about the parables in the plural
      form, not about the parable of the sower. It has a place in the end of
      the parabolic discourse. In this different scenario, the disciples would
      have enquired about the use Jesus made of the parables. The normal
      answer would have been then something like this: The analogy with real
      life situation is a good way of explaining what pertains to the
      invisible spiritual reality of the kingdom. In other words, we go from
      the visible reality to the invisible one.

      What seems to have happened is that the question in verse 10 has been
      shifted from one context to another one. The shift to another context
      has the effect of calling for a totally different answer. All of a
      sudden the good people who gathered to hear Jesus and who admired him
      are dismissed as outsiders who are excluded from salvation!!! This is
      precisely a point that makes no sense. In this new context, the parable
      becomes a riddle. Instead of enlightening, it obscures. Instead of
      making sense, it makes no sense at all. The real meaning of the parable
      is thus corrupted, and the words of the prophet Isaiah are applied
      erratically to the genuine admirers of Jesus.

      The context in which the opposition between insiders and outsiders
      applies is a post-Easter context. I am thinking of the second ending of
      Mark, where the resurrected Christ tells the eleven: **Go into all the
      world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. The one who
      believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe
      will be condemned** (Mk 16:15-16). So verses 11 and 12, which separate
      the two parts of the parable, anticipate in a pre-Easter context what
      belongs in the post-Easter context (the judgment context).

      A FIRST DRAFT OF MY THEORY

      Originally the parable of the sower was told in its entirety to the
      public. It was split in two parts and verses 10-12 were inserted between
      the two parts "after the resurrection". If I may use here an analogy, I
      would say that the ocean bed of the parable was spilt by the eruption of
      the molten lava of verses 11-12. If the two parts of the parable are as
      sedimentary rock, verses 11-12 are as volcanic rock. This means that we
      are dealing here with rocks of different natures and different origins.
      The force that caused the volcanic eruption to occur and split the ocean
      bed is the Easter force.

      What I am saying here is just an intuition. Nothing has been proven yet.
      But most discoveries are made in this fashion. They begin as a lucky
      intuition, which proves to be correct once it has been submitted to the
      test.

      AN INHERENT DIFFICULTY

      Why would someone in his right mind go back to the parable of the sower
      and split it in two, so as to produce the Markan version of it? Because
      I have been unable to think of someone in his right mind who would have
      acted in this fashion, I felt the need to allow for the possibility of
      someone who had a deeply disturbed mind as a potential suspect.

      I will stop here today, just because it is getting late.

      Peace,

      Joseph
      ================
      Joseph Codsi
      P.O. Box 116-2088
      Beirut, Lebanon
      Telephone (961) 1 423 145
      joseph5@...
    • Joseph Codsi
      The parable of the sower 2 In the initial post, I have shown that the story as it is told in GMark makes no sense. Jesus could not have told the parable to the
      Message 2 of 3 , Jul 2, 2005
        The parable of the sower 2

        In the initial post, I have shown that the story as it is told in GMark
        makes no sense. Jesus could not have told the parable to the public
        without its explanation. On the other hand, the theological explanation
        of this behavior (verses 10-12) makes no sense in the pre-Easter context
        of the parable.

        In order to shed some light on this strange situation, I propose to
        analyze another passage, where the same question of spiritual blindness
        is discussed. I am speaking of the pericope known as **the Yeast of the
        Pharisees** (Mk 8:14-21).

        In this pericope, the situation of the disciples is reversed. Instead of
        being in the category of the privileged insiders who are entitled to the
        mystery of the Kingdom, the disciples find themselves in the category of
        the outsiders who see without perceiving and hear without understanding.

        Clearly the disciples were obsessed by this question. On the one hand,
        Jesus took special care of them. He instructed them in the mystery of
        the Kingdom. On the other hand, however, they had remained blind. They
        could not see something very important. Everything took place as if a
        mysterious force had prevented them from seeing something essential. Is
        there a way of identifying the specific thing in relation to which they
        were blinded?

        As far as we can tell, Jesus made one day an enigmatic declaration
        concerning the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod. According to
        Matthew, he was talking about doctrinal questions, not about physical
        bread (cf. Mt 16:12). According to Luke, Jesus warned the disciples
        about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees (Lk 12:1).

        Most likely, the historical kernel of the story is an enigmatic
        declaration concerning the Pharisees. The question could have been
        settled very easily by asking Jesus to clarify his thought. But, as is
        usual in GMark, the usual is not what happens. The unusual and the
        complicated happen instead. This leads me to believe that we are dealing
        here not with a normal mind who thinks normally, but with a disturbed
        mind who thinks erratically. A simple incident is blown up out of
        proportion. It becomes a formidable problem.

        THE NONSENSICAL DIMENSION OF THE PROBLEM

        In the second prediction of the Easter event, the disciples don't
        understand what Jesus told them. Normally they should have asked him to
        explain what was not clear to them. But the disciples are prevented from
        doing what is normal. They were paralyzed by fear. Something similar
        prevents them on this other occasion from asking the normal question.
        Instead they remain in their ivory tower and mumble to themselves. Jesus
        guesses what they are thinking about and attacks them in no tender way.
        Jesus' behavior is just as erratic as the disciples'. What does he say
        to them?

        ***Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive
        or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes, and fail to
        see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember? When I
        broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of
        broken pieces did you collect" they said to him, "Twelve." "And the
        seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did
        you collect?" and they said to him, "Seven." Then he said to them, "Do
        you not understand?"***

        It is now my turn to say that I don't understand what this is all about.
        What was there to understand about the feeding of the five and four
        thousand that the disciples did not understand? Was Jesus an ambulant
        bakery that could deliver bread at will? Was it enough to have one loaf
        of bread to feed the little group of the disciples? Were the disciples
        to live in a dream world and cease to worry about food?

        How are we to understand all this talk about hardened hearts and blinded
        eyes? I do not see any common measure between a simple misunderstanding
        of an enigmatic declaration and this heavy talk about divinely-induced
        blindness and deafness. The reference to the prophets' sayings about
        hardened hearts is out of place here. The Jesus who is talking here is
        just as disturbed as the disciples. This leads me to believe that
        nothing in this talk is historical. The disciples have used the incident
        of the yeast of the Pharisees as an anchor point for inserting what went
        on in their disturbed mind. The Jesus they have produced is as disturbed
        as they are.

        The recognition of this fact is important if we want to correctly
        interpret the text. If all this is the product of the disturbed mind of
        the disciples, we should seek to identify the real problem with which
        they are struggling.

        In the context of the parable of the sower, they recognize that Jesus
        did initiate them into the mystery of the Kingdom of God. In the context
        of the yeast of the Pharisees, they find themselves left out of the
        mystery. Their situation is totally reversed. They are left in the dark.
        But this time the darkness concerns the Christian mystery, not the
        mystery of the Kingdom. The Christian mystery is signified here through
        the Eucharistic dimension. The feeding of the five and four thousand is
        a clear reference to what was going to become the Eucharist. Jesus
        blames the disciples for not understanding that dual event. This is an
        echo of what was admitted in the context of the walk on the water. The
        incident ends with the following remark: "They did not understand about
        the loaves, but their hearts were hardened" (Mk 7:52).

        This is the way the disciples recognize that Jesus did not initiate them
        into the Christian mystery, which is the Easter revelation concerning
        Jesus Christ. In what pertains to the mystery of the Kingdom of God,
        Jesus treated them as insiders and made sure they were well initiated
        into his views about this central topic of his message. But in what
        pertains to the Christian mystery, Jesus treated them as outsiders. He
        left them in the dark. Everything took place as if a mysterious force
        had prevented them from seeing and understanding. This means that the
        resurrection took the disciple by surprise. Nothing in the words and
        acts of Jesus could have allowed them to anticipate the resurrection. He
        had not initiated them into the Easter mystery. This was the stumbling
        block that disturbed the disciples.

        They could not recognize the problem openly. The only way they could
        recognize it was through a coded language concocted by their disturbed
        mind. We have in the parable of the sower and the incident of the yeast
        of the Pharisees (passing in between through the walk on the water) a
        coded discourse in which the disciples admitted their blindness and
        understood it in the light of what the prophets had said. God had
        prevented them from recognizing in Jesus, during his life, the Christ of
        the Easter revelation. In the context of the demonic revelation of the
        Christian identity of Jesus, they explained the Lord's behavior by
        saying that he had to keep his Christian identity secret until the
        resurrection. This specific theme runs through the profession of faith
        of Peter and the Transfiguration.

        Today we have the choice between following the disciples' explanation
        and departing from it. In the latter case, one would simply say that the
        historical Jesus ignored the Easter revelation, because he was not what
        the Christian faith made of him.

        Peace,

        Joseph
        ================
        Joseph Codsi
        P.O. Box 116-2088
        Beirut, Lebanon
        Telephone (961) 1 423 145
        joseph5@...
      • Frank Jacks
        By way of introduction, let me share with the list that I have been in conversation with Joseph off-board about his earlier posting about the three
        Message 3 of 3 , Jul 3, 2005
          By way of introduction, let me share with the list that I have been in
          conversation with Joseph off-board about his earlier posting about the
          three "predictions of the resurrection" now found in Mark, which he
          seeks to explain in terms of how the original apostles revised their
          views concerning Jesus as a result of their "Easter experiences."

          Since it seemed to me that he was in effect offering an alternative to
          Wrede's lodging this in the redactional editing of the author of Mark by
          relocating this revision to the originating stage of "the Jesus
          tradition." This is of course a possibility but as Tony has so ably
          pointed out already, there are other ways of viewing the process which
          led to what we now find in Mark.

          I must admit that along with Tony I regret that Joseph has not yet
          responded to the questions already raised but I do hope that Joseph
          might yet respond to what Tony has asked on-board and which I have
          raised off-board, although my own principal recommendation has been
          is simply the suggestion that he really ought to read Wrede's book, "The
          Messianic Secret (E.T.)."

          But instead of pursuing this earlier theme/thread, we now find Joseph
          raising other possibilities about other "oddities" found in the Gospel
          of Mark by offering his own take about the "parable of the sower" in Mk.
          4, to which Jeffrey has already asked Joseph to position his views in
          terms of various notable scholars who have already treated this material
          and treated it well.

          But it seems to me that we must expand Jeffrey's suggested list, for I
          find that the real issue has to do not so much with this parable as the
          nature of parables in general, since the author of Mark offers a
          particular explanation about why Jesus taught in parables, an oddity
          which Joseph properly objects to. Thus, I would add to Jeffrey's list
          at least C. H. Dodd, if only because he insisted that Jesus himself
          never allegorizes the parables, which Dodd (correctly, I think) finds
          in the Gospel of Mark; indeed, I would myself yoke up this particular
          Marcan approach to Jesus' parables with the over-all theme we call "the
          Messianic secret," since Mk. 4 seems to find as the "secret meaning"
          of this parable (and the others as well) as that Jesus the Messiah is
          already present and active as the "hidden agenda" of both his actions
          and his teachings.

          In this regard, Joseph has come close to "getting it right," at least in
          terms of what we now find in the Gospel of Mark, but I do have one
          slight but significant revision to the basis for his analysis, for he
          writes:

          >THE DUAL MEANING OF THE WORD "PARABLE"
          >
          >In Mark's fourth chapter, the word "parable" is used in two meanings.
          >Normally a parable is an analogy which helps understand the spiritual
          >reality of the Kingdom. But when the parable of the sower is told
          >without its explanation, it becomes a riddle. Instead of helping
          >understand the spiritual message, it obscures it. This amounts to a
          >radical corruption of the concept and of the entire operation.

          Almost but not quite on target - yes, a "parable" (which in the Greek
          simply means to "lay alongside one another two different things," i.e.
          to "make a comparison") is an analogy ... but not necessarily about
          "spiritual things" or about just "the kingdom" or any other religious
          topic or theme, since it is simply the common literary device of using a
          "metaphor" or a "simle" by which the speaker seeks to assist the hearer
          in understanding his/her points by using something familiar in order to
          explain something unfamiliar. Yes, it might well be a topic of
          theological or religious discourse but as a literary technique, it can
          be employed in explicating any topic deemed unfamiliar to those
          listening. In this case, the "things/subjecting being explained" is
          surely "the kingdom," but why does this parable need any follow-up or
          explanation, in order to be understood?

          If any parable really does require a "part II" in order to be
          understood, would not this simply mean that it is a "bab" parable, one
          that has not "done the job"? Perhaps I have miread Joseph's point here,
          but any parable or comparison that requires explanation or explication
          is not so much a "riddle" but is simply a "bad parable," on that just
          has not "done the job." And here is another point which Dodd (and
          others) helped me learn, that despite the statements in the canonical
          gospels, if Jesus in fact did use parables in his teachings then if he
          were an effective public speaker then further explanation or commentary
          would be quite unnecessary. Here I am reminded about what the poet
          Robert Frost used to say about those who asked him about the meaning of
          his poetry; his standard comment was that he saw these persons as asking
          him to say in other AND WORSE words what he had already expressed! It
          thus seems to me that "no explanation" ought be required or expected to
          be attached to any of Jesus' parables, a view NOT held by the author of
          Mark ... whom Joseph has apparently but unfortunately followed.

          The problem then (as I see it) is not so much that this author has
          separated the parable from its explanation but rather that the author
          has presented Jesus' parables as riddles, which are NOT understandable
          except for those who "know the secret" or have the "key" that unlocks
          this secret or hidden meaning. Thus, I doubt the accuracy of Joseph's
          claim that Mk. 4:33 means that Jesus spoke in order to be understood.
          Yes, I think that such was likely the case "in actual history," just not
          as we now find the presentation by the author of Mark.

          >DID JESUS SPEAK SO THAT PEOPLE WOULD NOT UNDERSTAND HIM?
          >
          >Was he so contemptuous of the crowds who came to hear him as to throw at
          >them bones that had no meat on them? The evidence is overwhelmingly
          >against this allegation.
          >
          >In the conclusion of the parabolic discourse, Mark writes:
          >
          >***With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able
          >to hear it.*** (Mk 4:33)
          >
          >This implies that Jesus spoke the word in such a way as to make it
          >understandable. He used the parables correctly, as analogies which were
          >particularly conducive to help the audience understand the spiritual
          >realities about which he was instructing them.

          Thus, since the author in this chapter has already laid out his own
          "theory" about "why Jesus taught in parables," we must turn our
          attention back to vv. 10-12, which Joseph does in his next section,
          where he says,

          >A CONTRADICTION OF ANOTHER KIND
          >
          >Let us turn our attention to verses 10-12, which divide the parable in
          >two parts.
          >
          >***10 When he was alone, those who were around him with the Twelve asked
          >him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, "To you has been given
          >the mystery of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything
          >comes in parables (riddles); 12 in order that <<they may indeed look,
          >but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand; so that
          >they may not turn again and be forgiven."

          Yes, this IS a crucial part of this lengthy pericope, as it lays out
          this author's surprising thesis, that Jesus taught in parables SO THAT
          "the outsiders" could not grasp their meaning, but would indeed be
          simply unintelligible riddles. Thus, Jesus "taught in parables" to
          "keep secret things secret," which is as Joseph surmises NOT the reason
          for employing comparisons in public discourse. But it clearly IS what
          we find in Mark.

          So yes, indeed, this author has created difficulties for us by his own
          "take on things" but then my attitude is simply, "Welcome to the Gospel
          of Mark"! But unlike Joseph who feels the need of some new hypothesis,
          I find myself quite content with the hypothesis proferred so long ago by
          Wrede, that this treatment of the parables is simply congruent with the
          overall theme in Mark, that Jesus is already "the Christ/Messiah" and
          already at work "doing the necessary things" but does not want such
          "known to the public" ahead of time, knowing that when this "secret"
          gets out that he will be killed, as in fact happens in c. 15!

          So to Joseph, I now say in public what I have said off-board for the
          past week, that both Jeffrey and Tony (and others) have been raising
          good questions, which your continued inability or unwillingness to
          answer is at least part of the reason for some of us not being able to
          react with the respect for you ideas that you apparently consider would
          be appropriate; you have joined in a conversation that has been going on
          for more than a century now and while it is perfectly legitimate to
          disagree with any of the note-worthy scholars of the past, to situate
          your own presentation in terms of their views is an appropriate way to
          present yourself. This is not "disrespect" but quite the opposite, for
          it is an invitation to join in the continuing talk ... but not to ignore
          what has preceeded us, as you seem to be doing! So please do address
          the questions and concerns already raised.

          Clive F. Jacks, Th.D.
          Professor of Religion, Emeritus
          Pikeville College
          Pikeville, KY

          (but now happily retired back home in the metro Atlanta area!)
        Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.