Paper 1 of 6: First The Natural Then The Spiritual.
A Parable is telling a story about the visible creation.
In the early days of Jesus’ ministry, he spoke plainly to those around him. He told parables. Jesus parables were stories about the natural things easily seen by the things that God made: the Creation. However, when His plain teachings and his reasoning were rejected, He began to veil these teachings of the kingdom (Mt 13:10-12).
There were those hungry enough to pose the question, “what does the parable mean?” These had already engaged with the story and its teller. They received and entered into it to learn its embedded spiritual lesson (Mk 4:10).
‘For whosoever has, to him shall be given and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not from him shall be taken away even that he has. (Mt 13.12)
Jesus Taught In Parables
A parable is not always the immediate lesson we might attribute to it. Parables are stories. Stories stay with us. They touch the heart. They bypass the mind. They’re easily understood. This is why we remember them and what they teach us whereas reading text by rote method or downloading the ‘facts’ do not.
For example, it’s hard to find someone who does not know what the story of the ‘Good Samaritan’ means. Or the ‘Good Shepherd’: the one who leaves a flock of ninety-nine sheep to find the one that got away. When you think about it, this is not good shepherding!
When Jesus used it his hearers knew he was not teaching them about being a good shepherd. The parables Jesus taught are teachings on the kingdom of God and the spiritual principals involved. You might say that the parables and the gospel point to an Upside-Down Kingdom – or we might more accurately say, a Right-Way Up Kingdom.
Jesus teachings are the other way around to the way we think and live our daily lives. To find a parable’s true application sometimes requires deep thought, of us thinking outside the box, or even trying standing on our head to see it differently.
A story breaks through our mesmerised daily living, speaking our daily scripts about the world from out viewpoint, the way we see ourselves and others in comparison to who we think are. We could say we go around in a dream, acting mindlessly.
We even drive our cars that way. We often ‘come to’, having driven a distance on ‘auto-pilot’. Parables jolt us into the reality of what the kingdom of God is like – and it’s nothing like the way in which we live in our bodies in this external world.
The semblance of the parable however is veiled; it is not always stating the obvious. The more we learn through experience about the Hebrew Scriptures and the good, the grace, and the justice of God and his righteousness, the easier it is to understand and interpret Jesus’ parables.
Parables and Fables: the Difference
The word ‘parable’ means, ‘a placing aside, to compare, though not always in agreement’. It is generally drawn from nature or human circumstances and the object of it in the bible sense is to set it forth as a spiritual lesson. The hearer must catch the analogy if they are to be instructed. This is different from a fable, which attributes to things that do not belong to them in nature i.e., half man and half beast, etc.
The Parable Of The Sower.
- A farmer
- The various kinds of soil
- The enemy of success
Jesus likened the kingdom of God to a mustard seed, a nondescript uninteresting common seed that no one would worry about if some were lost. It’s like seeing a one-cent coin on the road. Few would stoop to pick it up because on its own its worthless. But if one had a million of them then we would go and cash them in.
The Working of Miracles
Now, in the kingdom of God everything has value, everything counts. God doesn’t take anything for granted. Neither should we.
The poor are rich in faith. Any evangelist worth their salt lives in the realm of faith on behalf of themselves and the poor. Evangelism is the ‘working of miracles’ because it’s the poor in spirit that seeks the riches of salvation. A new creation is a miracle. People getting saved is a miracle!
Evangelism takes us sowing seed amongst the poor. It’s no-good encountering hungry people and sending them away to buy some food. When the disciples told Jesus to do that he put it back on them and told them “you give them something to eat”.
So, if you’re an evangelist, working amongst the poor, it apparently isn’t of any use asking Jesus to feed them. He’s not in the business of feeding people. He had already dealt with that temptation, “If you are the son of God turn stones into bread”. “Nope. That’s not what I’m here for”.
He was not going to be side-tracked from his goal. He had to go to Jerusalem as it was the time of the Passover. That was the miracle he was looking toward, the miracle of the resurrection. He didn’t ask the disciples to do what they could not do but only to feed people.
Show People How To Work Their Own Miracle.
I’ve helped people work their own miracle by giving them some money and instructing them they can use it for themselves, but I recommend that to work a miracle they find someone to give it to. You’ll even work your own miracle by doing that! It will be a double blessing: for them and you.
I was in the UK last year editing this when I gave a kind word to a bloke passing me in a food shop. I was at a table with a friend having a coffee. He said his name was Carl. He was homeless, living in his car, and had no job. I gave him twenty pounds which is all I had. Someone had given it to me, and I was passing it on. I instructed him to give it away and in this way work his own miracle.
Within five hours of that, I got given a selection of new suitable clothes. I needed some warm clothes as I’d come from Australia unprepared. Now, following our conversation a business owner/ friend heard the story. She offered to interview Carl for a job and provide him a place to live.
The irony is Carl never answered his phone or returned my call to get his miracle. We never heard from him again. It was only a small seed I know. A kind word and twenty quid, but it worked a miracle of provision both ways.
Sadly, he didn’t collect! But maybe he did and I just don’t know about it. So, this is the kingdom of God we’re talking about; it’s different from the way this world operates.
Size Does Not Matter: The Mustard Seed
Returning to the parable of the seed. Jesus is attempting to get us to think about the micro in life, to pull our thinking processes back from the macro. The micro is not the big picture, but it belongs in the big picture.
Jesus made an interesting statement when teaching his disciples the meaning of the parable of the sower. He challenged them, “don’t you understand this parable? If you don’t, then how will you be able to understand all the others that I give you?” (Mk 4: 11: Matt 13; Lk 8).
By this, Jesus is saying that this parable is more about the seed and the condition of the soil than it is about the sower. Of course ultimately God is the Sower, we are the field, the seed id the Word of God … but, first the natural.
Speaking of natural things it can be any sower. It’s the combination of the soil and the seed that take precedence as any wise gardener knows. This parable is the master-key for us as evangelist’s harvesting a good crop.
From The Natural To The Spiritual
Here Jesus is first using the natural to interpret the spiritual truth behind it. This same principle of interpretation, that of ‘first the natural, then the spititual’, can be used to unlock all of Jesus’ teachings. This is the key to having eyes to see the spiritual unseen Kingdom of God. An illustration of the seed in relation to the kingdom (household) of God is in Mk 4:30-32.
Seed Grows Gradually
Jesus is speaking here about a gradual process of growth, instead of the sudden manifestation of the kingdom. The parable of the mustard seed in the first instance may be referring to the commandment that prohibits the sowing of diverse kinds; it may be that the seed gets inadvertently planted amongst other seeds.
Here, we might deduct from what Jesus is saying is that the gospel seed may be sown among different types of people when they come together, say, chatting about everyday things. I have witnessed this many times when watching television interviews or listening to the radio, as well as in everyday witnessing where there is a group of people together.
Different messages are on repeat and I detect a grain of gospel seed got mixed up with other seeds being sown. Jesus does not say the mustard seed is the smallest seed in the world (because it is not). However, it is insignificant.
Sow Common Insignificant Seed
Instead, He said it is less than all the seeds that are on the earth. The common unadorned gospel seed, like the mustard seed, is a seed sown in relation to everyday life. It doesn’t require an orator. Ordinary people can sow it.
Mustard seed is also like a weed that grows wild amongst crops. Keeping in context with the teaching about the kingdom, Jesus also infers that the gospel seeds get mixed up with other seeds. For example, I’m suggesting it can appear throughout the conversation, wherever people gather to talk.
When someone is sharing a humanistic perception of life, simply say, “no, I don’t believe that”. “Rather, this is what Proverbs says …. “. Give to them that are weary a kind word in season. Get into the habit of doing it. First, it breaks the monotony of everyday life for them and you. You’re also on their candid camera. A kind word in season is like a mustard seed that a person sows into another’s life.
The right word at the right time is like a commissioned piece of jewellery. Just what you wanted. (Prov 25:11-12.)
Be An ANGEL in Disguise
To be a specialist in the communication you must practice. Practice makes perfect. Cast a small seemingly insignificant seed into your neighbour’s spiritual garden as they walk out of their gate by smiling and greeting them! Speak a word to them at the right time. God is listening to perform the counsel of his messenger. Be as a divine messenger, an angel, would you?
A-N-G-E-L is simply a transliteration of the exact Greek letters. In English lingo, it actually means ‘messenger’. Hey, while you’re wheeling in your own bins off the street curb, why not take in the elderly neighbour’s bin for them? Or pick up that bit of paper in the roadway or in the workplace or home. Someone’s got to pick it up. Why not you?
Apart from helping to deal with the litter problem, someone observes you and it changes their day. Give a person a seat on the bus; it influences others. You figure it out. A word or a deed, in season, changes the dynamics around us and God is waiting to perform the word of God’s power. You and I are God’s messengers.
This is like, in the natural, lifting two tins of peas three times a day to strengthen our muscles. In other words, when change is essential, do something different! Anything!
‘For as the rain comes down and the snow from heaven and does not return back to the heavens but waters the earth and makes it bring forth a flower that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater’.
‘So shall my Word be that goes out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me empty of power, but it shall accomplish that which I want it to and it shall prosper in the thing where I send it’. (Isaiah. 55:10-1)
We are workers together with God.
Next time: The Mustard Seed
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