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My most recent publication is the Tyndale New Testament Commentary on the Book of Revelation. You can order it from Amazon and other online retailers (make sure you order mine, and not the previous edition by Leon Morris!), or directly from the publisher on the IVP website.

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The Parable of the Sower and Soils in Matthew 13

The lectionary this week (Fifth Sunday after Trinity in Year A) repeats a grievous error in its choice of passage that it also made last week—cutting out the central section and thus seriously altering the meaning of the reading. 

Last week (on which, forgive me dear regular reader, I failed to comment), we had a reading that excised two sections from three in the chapter: Jesus rather taunting comparison of himself with John the Baptist, and the response to them both (Matt 11.16–19); Jesus condemnatory words to the towns that had not received him (Matt 11.20–24); and Jesus’ invitation to ‘rest’ and ‘take my yoke upon you’ (Matt 11.25–30). The lectionary cut out the middle section, so that instead of us hearing both the challenge and the comfort of Jesus’ teaching, we focussed on the comfort only. Is it any wonder, then, that so many find it easy to make Jesus in their own image, as one who offers words of solace only without confronting us with the challenge and consequences of decision?

There is a similar error here. The lectionary selects the first (Matt 13.1–9) and third (Matt 13.18–23) parts of Jesus’ parable of the soils (usually called the parable of the sower following Matt 13.18, but it is in fact the soils and their different responses to the seed which are at the centre of our attention), whilst omitting the crucial middle section of Jesus’ commentary (Matt 13.10–17), which both contains the challenge of the parables, and explains that this is, in effect, a parable about parables. Most seriously, the elision of the two outer sections changes the meaning of the second; if we didn’t know better, we would think (by following on from verse 9 to verse 18) that those ‘hearing’ the explanation of the parable are the same people who ‘hear’ the parable itself. They aren’t, and that is the point; the parable is for ‘them’ (or ‘those outside’, Mark 4.11) but the explanation is for ‘you’, the ones to whom the ‘secret of the kingdom of heaven’ has been given.