The Master Parable
Matthew 13:1-23 is Matthew's account of Jesus teaching the Parable of the Sower (which I call the metaparable, or Master Parable, for it is by it that we understand all the parables). Verses 10 through 19 convey several relevant aspects regarding the human heart:
10 And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? 11 He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. 12 For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. 13 Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. 14 And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: 15 For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. 16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear. 17 For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them. 18 Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower. 19 When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side.
The first aspect is in verses 13 and 15, which indicates that Jesus saw the heart as the part of man that understands what he hears. A heart that has "waxed gross" is associated with ears that are "dull of hearing" and eyes that "they (themselves) have closed", resulting in no understanding of what is heard. Paul viewed such an understanding as being darkened due to a blind heart. In contrast, an understanding heart, eyes that see, and ears that hear, are associated with understanding what is heard and seen. In verse 16, we have a transitional situation: the disciples had eyes that saw, and ears that heard, yet they asked jesus, in verse 10, why he was speaking in parables. Mark 4:10 clarifies their question by indicating that the question was an indirect request for help in understanding the parable. Though they did not understand, they noticed that they didn't understand, giving evidence within their hearts that their eyes saw and their ears heard. These are the core qualifications for a heart that was capable of understanding, so Jesus called them "blessed".
The next three aspects are in verse 19, which indicates that hearing the "word of the kingdom", but not understanding it, enables "the wicked one" to remove that which was "sown" into the heart of the hearer. A parable is a metaphor clothed in story form. In this parable, the heart is likened to a field which is sown with seed, which is the "word of the kingdom". Applying the metaphor, the heart is seen as a place where words are planted and have the capability of growing. The first aspect to note is the role that the "word of the kingdom" plays within the human heart: it can grow and produce fruit with varying yields. The second aspect is that the heart must understand that word for it to "get into the ground", so that it can take root. A "word of the kingdom" that is not understood is likened to seed that lies on top of the ground, permitting the "wicked one" to snatch it away. The behavior of the "wicked one" indirectly indicates the third aspect: if left alone, the seed may take root, so that possiblity must be prevented. This indicates that the heart was viewed by the ancients as the place where the memory resides and which performs the function of bringing back important memories "to mind". This ties in with Matthew 6:21, since each of us, at one time or another in our lives, have suffered sleepless nights tossing and turning from thoughts that seem to force themselves to our attention because some "treasure" of ours is threatened. If our heart is where our "treasure" is, then it is the heart that sets the mental agenda, decides what is important based on what our "treasure" is, and brings relevant thoughts to the mind's attention. A proof that the word did not "get into the soil" is that it is not brought back from the memory to awareness. It does not reappear again to be considered. Human memory is very good at throwing out stuff that is repetitious or not relevant when compared to what is already in memory.
Now, here is an interesting aspect of these verses: the initial question that started the discussion in this passage was "Why was Jesus teaching in Parables"? He taught the people and his disciples in parables, and his parables were exclusively spoken (verse 19). He used no audiovisual techniques, almost exclusively speaking his parables. Yet, the verses indicated above talk of ears and eyes. Was Jesus talking about physical ears and eyes? Or was he talking about the "internal voice" that speaks words, and the "internal projector" that displays pictures to the "internal eye"? I would think the latter, based on verse 16, where Jesus praises the eyes and ears of the disciples for seeing and hearing, even though not yet understanding. Paul adds music, song, and singing to the list (Ephesians 5:19), and holds that the unsaved heart of those who indulge in sin is blinded. In contrast, the people are viewed as not "seeing" and "hearing" the parable, even though they audibly heard Jesus' words and visibly saw his body. It seems that the hearts of the disciples, although not understanding at the moment, are trying to, because in each disciple's mind is being generated a mental audio-visual of the parable. It is "running a mental model of the parable" to use a computer metaphor. The Master Parable indeed: a major contributor when it comes to gaining an understanding of the Word of the Kingdom is to try to understand it. For that to happen, one must realize "Goodness! This stuff is important!",at which point it becomes a treasure upon which the heart focusses. We engineers and programmers do this sort of thing in our heads, and we do it all the time when it comes to the problems we encounter in our fields of expertise. If this is not an invitation to bring that mental attitude and way to attack problems to spiritual, biblical, and theological matters, then I wouldn't know how to word one that does.
The Parable of the Sower is a critical one to understand, and not because Jesus saw fit to explain it in detail (The Parable of the Wheat and Tares being another one he took seriously enough to explain). Another name for this Parable would be The Bootstrap Parable: if understanding the Word of the Kingdom is critical, then this parable tells us that trying to understand is the first step, and running that Word through our minds using mental audio-visual modelling constitutes the required activity to do so. In Mark's version of the parable, Jesus implies that all the parables he says has an important lesson worth working to uncover. Of course we can get help by reading and talking about alternatives with others, just as any good engineer would be derelict if he didn't seek other opinions and points of view. However, such contributions will mean nothing unless they are applied to or tested against that running mental model in our heads. Or running in our hearts, if we adopt the classification scheme of mental process that Jesus and the Bible writers seemed to employ.
Before we go on, I feel pressed to include this: the quality of the understanding affects the outcome. At the end of the explanation of the parable, Jesus notes that the harvest varies, with some producing 3000% increases, some 6000% increases, some 10000%. Since the seed (the Word of the Kingdom) is the same, the differences must lie in the soils in which the seed lands. Since the human heart is the parabolical soil, the work expended in understanding that Word, and the measure of success while doing so, has to be making that critical difference in the outcome. Since scripture doesn't come with any indications of what has to be understood to attain that 100-fold increase, we have to act, think, work, and behave like engineers confronted with the task of taking a pump to 100% efficiency, but because the manual is missing, we have no idea what 100% efficiency looks like for that pump.
We still have more to discover of what the Bible writers thought of the human heart.
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