Like any story, a parable is a
window into the mind of the author. People describe only what they can
imagine; and imagination depends on what a person has seen, heard or read
about. In this case the agricultural image of sowing seed indicates the rural
perspective of both the speaker & original audience.
Here the speaker describes a
process called broadcasting: taking handfuls of seed and scattering it to the
wind rather than depositing it directly in prepared soil. This method of
planting was widely used in primitive agriculture, particularly in hilly
regions like Galilee where rocks that could destroy a cast-iron plow often lay
just below the surface. Since geological pressures cause subterranean rocks to
migrate upward, farmers cannot be sure from year to year just where the rocks
and the fertile soil are located. Finding & removing all rocks would be
inefficient & time-consuming. So each spring Mediterranean grain farmers
simply scattered the relatively inexpensive seed across their fields. Of
course some would be lost to the unpredictable forces of nature: birds, weeds,
hard ground, lack of rainfall. But there was always enough good soil to insure
a harvest. So, from time immemorial broadcasting was the normal process of
planting in the eastern Mediterranean.
Thus, the parable of the sower
describes an annual ritual that any ancient rural audience was bound to
recognize. The only unusual detail is the size of the
harvest. In a good year a farmer might reap 5 to 10 times what he planted.
So, ancient people familiar with normal yields would certainly have been
particularly struck by this parable's prediction of a bumper crop 10 times
This parable is, therefore, a
description of a common event with an extraordinarily optimistic outcome. The
exaggerated details of the punch line indicate that expectation of an abundant
harvest is the point that the person formulating this parable
intended to stress. All the other details about losses simply prepare the
audience for the dramatic contrast at the end. So the point built into the
logical structure of the parable of the sower is that the benefits of
broadcasting more than compensate for anything that is lost in the process.