After reading Tuesday’s post on Lohfink’s book on the parables of Jesus, my friend Joe Costantino wrote to me with the question “whether there were one or two interpretations or contextual insights he provided that led you to say: wow, I never thought of that before.”
Had I not read several other books by Lohfink, I would have answered yes to that question as how he interprets the parables. But much of what I read here flows directly from his emphasis in his earlier books on Jesus’ focus on the Kingdom and on the mystery of his own person in that connection. Having said that, I hope I conveyed in my original post that I found his contextual comments on the parables useful.
The contextual insight that stood out for me was his discussion of the parable of the abundant harvest. (Mark 4:3-9). When I’ve talked about this parable of the seed growing on good soil yielding a harvest of thirty or sixty or a hundredfold, I’ve adopted the interpretation of many commentators that this is an obvious exaggeration meant to convey, intended to strike hearers as something that would completely surpass real conditions. (As many others, I have on other occasions invited folks to consider whether they behave like the different types of seeds sown that are described in the parable.)
Lohfink’s book is the first I’ve heard of “tillering,” a process that would make the big quantities in Jesus’ talk completely normal because some of the seeds would “tiller” themselves, that is splitting into several stalks. As Lohfink explains based on his research, a “sprouting seed only produces a single shoot at the outset, but at a very early stage the bottommost node (the so-called “tillering node”), lying far below the surface of the soil, puts out side-shoots” which cause a branching of the principle stem such that there be a next of tillers.
Lohfink opines that Jesus presumed the process of tillering, making his sequence of 36…60…100 immediately plausible to his hearers. Thus, he suggests that “the parable depicts the coming of the reign of God from the first line on. Its coming includes the sowing, the adversaries who do it the utmost damage, and then finally the abundant harvest that stands on the stalk in the end, despite all those who oppose it.” He goes on to say that while the parable speaks first about what God is doing now in Israel, Jesus is also speaking about himself.
He is the sower who sows the word or proclamation. He is also the one who sows people. He has to bear the attacks of his opponents. He experiences how his adversaries frighten people who really want to follow him and try to destroy his mission. And he sees who is seed grows in spite of it all.
You may not find that observation as interesting as I did, but It makes me think differently about the harvest Jesus talks about.