The Context of the Parable of the Sower

08 Jan

from Google Images

As Jesus entered his second year of public ministry, some women, Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Susanna, mentioned in Luke 8:2-3, became his financial supporters in the same vein as the women who sustained Elijah (1Kings 17:1, 9-16) and Elisha (2Kings 4:8-11). It appears that Luke mentions these women here in order to identify figures he mentioned previously in Luke 7. The mother of the Roman centurion’s servant is Joanna,[1] the widow of Nain is Susanna, and the unnamed woman at the Pharisee’s dinner held in Jesus’ honor is Mary Magdalene.

If the Pharisee’s dinner (Luke 7:36-50) shows Jesus was in Jerusalem celebrating Hanukkah (cf. Luke 7:16-17), the context of Jesus’ preaching in Luke 8:1 would be in the towns and villages on his return trip to Galilee, and the phrase “soon afterward” or “and it came to pass” (Luke 8:1) would mean a day or a few days after this same dinner at the Pharisee’s home. Hanukkah was an eight day minor Jewish festival, and there would be no reason for Jesus to linger in Judea, especially if the unnamed Jewish festival in John 5 is the same one implied in Luke 7, because the Jewish authorities sought Jesus’ life (John 5:18; cf. 7:1).

Knowing Jesus had returned to Galilee from Judea after celebrating Hanukkah in Jerusalem, the context of the phrase “much people were gathered together, and were come to him out of every city”(Luke 8:4) may indicate the timeframe has jumped ahead to the Feast of Purim, celebrated in the 12th month of the Jewish calendar. It is the only other Jewish festival before the next Passover,[2] which Jesus celebrated in Galilee about the time of the miracle of the feeding of the 5000 (Luke 9:10-17; cf. John 6:4-10).

In the beginning of Jesus public ministry he spoke quite clearly. Everyone understood him. In fact, he was so clear that the people in Nazareth, who knew him when he was young, wanted to throw him off a cliff to prove he wasn’t a prophet of God (Luke 4:18, 28-29; cf. 4:9-11). The few times Jesus used parables when he preached during his first year, he immediately offered their interpretation (cf. Luke 6:43-45; 46-49). Nevertheless, about five to six months into the second year of Jesus’ public ministry, he began preaching in parables and explained them only to his disciples, when they were alone (Luke 8:4, 11). Why did Jesus suddenly change the method of his preaching? Was he trying to hide the meaning of the word of God from certain folks, and what purpose did parables serve the Gospel?

The Parable of the Sower was delivered near the shore of the Sea of Galilee in the area of Capernaum (Matthew 13:1-2; Mark 4:1). Jesus had entered a boat (probably owned by Peter and Andrew) to put some distance between himself and the crowd of people. If the apostles didn’t know the meaning of the Parable of the Sower (Luke 8:9), how could the people on the shore know? Without an explanation from Jesus, no one was able understand that the seed is the word of God (Luke 8:11), or that the ground is a man’s heart (Luke 8:5,12, 15), etc. The people on the shore may have been asking one another what the parable meant. They were at least as confused as the disciples, who, no doubt, also asked one another about the parable’s meaning before going to Jesus privately.

Jesus wasn’t trying to hide the truth, but, rather, showed the condition of men’s hearts with respect to the truth. The fact that no one knows what he is doing without asking him is the point of the parable. Previously, Jesus had been fairly clear in his preaching, but very few people acted on the truth Jesus preached. The apostles, of course, wanted to understand, so they asked Jesus what he meant. The people did not, and that’s the point. They sought out Jesus for reasons other than to know the Gospel. Perhaps they wanted to see another miracle. Perhaps they wanted to know if and when he would gather an army against the Romans, or perhaps they were excited to see the conflict between Jesus and the Jewish authorities and wanted to witness the latest episodes of their ongoing disagreements. Whatever the reason they sought Jesus out, it was predominantly not to embrace the truth. Therefore, the preaching of parables would cause those among them who might be curious enough about the Gospel to come to Jesus and ask, just as the apostles had done. Thus, they would be forced into making a decision for Christ, rather than content themselves with fence-dwelling.


[1] Joanna is the wife of Chuza, whom I believe is the nobleman mentioned in John 4:46. His son is the Roman centurion’s servant of Luke 7:2 (see: Identifying the Roman Centurion’s Servant).

[2] The second in Jesus’ public ministry.

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Posted by on January 8, 2017 in Gospel of Luke


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