Jesus spoke in parables. What are parables? How do we interpret them? On a popular level parables are sometimes described as ‘earthly stories with heavenly meanings.’ We need to be careful with this understanding of parables as it can lead us to spiritualising all of the parables, thus making them have more to do with Plato than the reign and rule of God on this earth.
Other might say that parables are ways of telling theological truths in a simple way so that everyone can understand. However, Jesus states that his parables have been designed to keep the kingdom of God a secret to those who are outsiders, but to make it revealed to those who are followers of Jesus. Parables function more like ‘revolutionary tracts’ which call people to a new way of life, but tracts which cannot be understood if people do not realise that revolution is in the air. These ‘revolutionary stories’ call people, and challenge them, they create the possibility of taking up ones cross and joining this new movement.
Jesus parables require deciphering for those who have ears to hear. In Marks gospel
we have 11 such stories.
This table taken from Green, Joel B. ; McKnight, Scot ; Marshall, I. Howard: Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Downers Grove, Ill. : InterVarsity Press, 1992, S. 596
The parable of the sower is often interpreted as if Jesus is a modern evangelical preacher. The preacher like the sower spreads the gospel message. People respond to the gospel message in differant ways.
N.T Wright though prefers to see this parable functioning as a ‘mini apocalypse’ as ‘the parable tells the story of Israel, particularly the return from exile, with a paradoxical conclusion, and it tells the story of Jesus’ ministry, as the fulfilment of the larger story’ (Wright, J&VOG pg 230.). We need to move away from individualising and spiritualising the stories and instead look how the parables function as ways of telling Israel’s story and the arrival to Israel of the kingdom of God. Once we understand the parables at this level we can more authentically give them relevance to us today. If we cut out the middle man (Israel) we are in danger of making the parables simply an exercise in reader response.
Parables have to do with meta-narratives and worldviews.
This parable, like Daniel 2 and Mark 12:1-12, tells the story of the triumph of the kingdom of God over anti-kingdom forces. Israel, as the seed of God, as the word of God, are being sown at different points in history. At last though Israel is being sown and a harvest is coming. The exile is over, the kingdom of God has arrived. Listeners are invited in this story to join the kingdom movement, providing of course they have ears to hear.
I have been puzzled by Wrights explanation for some years now given that this parable comes with an interpretation (Mark 4:13-20). I simply did not read it as the story of Israel. Yet Wright makes some interesting points regerading this parable which must be at least listened to. I now tentatively agree with Wright but most definetly agree with him that the parables need to be understood within the larger Judaic metanarrative and not just simply be ‘evangelicalised’.
I can’t begin to explain his reasons in depth but can only refer you to J&VOG (Jesus and the Victory of God, pages 230-235). http://www.amazon.co.uk/Jesus-Victory-God-Christian-Question/dp/0281047170/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=gateway&qid=1201511910&sr=8-1
If we are to model Jesus in our proclamation we should look at telling stories which evoke meta-narratives and offer challenges. The stories will critique, rebuke and summon those who have ears to hear. A good friend of mine Mark Roques http://www.markroques.com/ seems more gifted than most in this department, as he uses worldview stories to challenge and inspire.