Which Type are You?

by Lois Tverberg

The sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell beside the road, and it was trampled under foot and the birds of the air ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky soil, and as soon as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. Other seed fell among the thorns; and the thorns grew up with it and choked it out. Other seed fell into the good soil, and grew up, and produced a crop a hundred times as great.” As He said these things, He would call out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” His disciples began questioning Him as to what this parable meant. And He said, “To you it has been granted to know the secrets of the Kingdom of God, but to the rest it is in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand. Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God… (Luke 8:4-11)

The parable of the sower is very familiar to Christians, but the punchline doesn’t quite make sense. Right after giving four illustrations of soil as it represents hearts that respond to God’s word, Jesus inserts a line about the “secrets of the Kingdom of God” that sounds as if he deliberately spoke in a coded riddles so that no one but an inner circle could understand.

Many have scratched their heads — is that really what he was saying? Reading this story in light of the Jewish culture in which it was given can solve several mysteries. Knowing more about its language, its use of Scripture, and how it fits into Jesus’ time can help us see its deeper message.

Other Parables About Four Types

First of all, it is important to know that parables were a common style of rabbinic preaching. There are over 4,000 parables in existence even to this day.1 They were used to illustrate a point with a concrete story, not to be secretive. Certainly Jesus’ point is usually quite clear. In the Good Samaritan parable, who can’t see why the Samaritan was a better neighbor than those who ignored the wounded man?

Listening to Jesus’ parables in light of other rabbinic sayings is very helpful for understanding them. He uses a familiar format, but gives it a unique flavor to teach about his kingdom.2 The “sower” parable sounds much like other “Four Types” parables, which compare four possible behaviors and their results:

There are four qualities in disciples: he who quickly understands and quickly forgets, his gain disappears in his loss; he who understands with difficulty and forgets with difficulty, his loss disappears in his gain; he who understands quickly and forgets with difficulty, his is a good portion; he who understands with difficulty and forgets quickly, his is an evil portion. (Pirke Avot 5:15)3

There are four characters among those who attend the house of study: he who goes and does not practice secures the reward for going; he who practices but does not go secures the reward for practicing; he who goes and practices is a saint; he who neither goes nor practices is a wicked man. (Pirke Avot 5:17)

Many parables include a four-fold comparison, but interestingly, these two sayings actually deal with a subject very similar to that of the parable of the sower: the response of a listener to the Word of God. The first is about a disciple remembering a rabbi’s teaching, and the second is about the reward for study and practicing God’s word.

These two sayings show the Jewish emphasis on lifelong study of the Bible, either through attending the “house of study” (bet midrash) at a local synagogue, or by being a disciple of a rabbi. We can see that God chose to send Jesus to a culture that greatly emphasized the study of Scripture. His words built upon and expanded the sayings of other rabbis, and brought them to a new level.

Another parable is similar in an additional way:

There are four types among those who sit in the presence of the rabbis: the sponge, the funnel, the strainer, and the sieve. “The sponge,” which soaks up everything. “The funnel,” which takes in at this end and lets out at the other. “The strainer,” which lets out the wine and retains the dregs. “The sieve,” which removes the chaff and retains the fine flour. (Pirke Avot, 5:18)

This third parable also talks about the learning of disciples, and this one initially might sound secretive with words like “sponge” and “funnel,” etc. Upon further reflection, however, we can see that the imagery is meant to illustrate a point. Obviously, one doesn’t want to be a funnel that loses everything that it takes in. The best thing not to be the sponge either, a person who parrots answers without discernment. Rather, a sieve is the best, because that person learns what is worthwhile and ignores what is not.

Notice that this parable also doesn’t include an explanation, because the audience was supposed to be able to figure it out. Not explaining a parable was common in rabbinic preaching.

Interestingly, these three rabbinic parables all focus on learning the Scriptures. Like them, Jesus’ words were a call to examine ourselves to see which type of listener that we are. Are our hearts hard to God’s word, or are we shallow, or are we distracted by wealth or daily living?

The same good seed is sown in all places, but whether it bears fruit is dependent on the soil. This parable should therefore be called “The Parable of the Soils” rather than “The Parable of the Sower,” because the point is that the impact of the Word is dependent on the listener, not on the message itself (the seed) and not on God (the sower), who shares with people whether or not they are likely to respond.

If this is the message of Jesus’ parable, it actually unlocks the sentences in the middle. If Jesus was saying that good seed can’t grow well in bad soil, then it follows that the reason people didn’t understanding Jesus is not because his words were deliberately confusing, but because of their lack of desire to obey it. The disciples, on the other hand, were responding in obedience. Only then did God’s truths become clear to them in their own personal experience, so that they would know the “secrets of the Kingdom of God.” (Psalm 25:14)

Prophetic Irony in Jesus’ Words

There are a couple more details that support this conclusion. Another rabbinic habit that Jesus had was to allude to a Scripture passage with the assumption that the audience would know its broader context.3 This was common because Jewish society was well-versed in the Bible. Here, Jesus quoted from Isaiah when he said,

Render the hearts of this people insensitive, their ears dull, and their eyes dim, otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and return and be healed. (Isaiah 6:10)

This passage is from the commissioning of the prophet Isaiah as God’s messenger. Knowing its greater context, Jesus’ listeners would have understood its great irony: God commissioned Isaiah to go out and preach to his people, and God certainly gave him clear words to say.

God was not telling Isaiah to confuse the people, but to proclaim the truth, even though his teaching would be rejected by most. Jesus was saying the same thing — that like the prophets he spoke to clarify God’s word, but from hardness of heart, many would not hear or obey him. In both instances, God’s greatest desire was to see his people return to him and be healed, but with frustrated irony, he proclaims that for the most part, they will not.

Another insight comes from the language of Jesus’ words. In Hebrew, the word “hear,” shema, doesn’t just mean to listen, but also to respond and obey.4 When we read the phrase, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear,” we may ignore it as a common exclamation in Jesus’ day. In this passage, however, it seems to be Jesus’ main point — if you hear, than you must obey as well! The entire passage is about hearing and obedience, and how the state of our hearts impacts how we shema, hear and obey.

The Kingdom and the Hundredfold Yield

Wheat field chaffThe fact that the crop the good soil yields is a “hundredfold” is significant. In biblical times, sowing a crop and reaping a hundredfold was unheard of, while a five to tenfold crop was all that was expected. It is quite possible that Jesus was again using the rabbinic habit of Scripture allusion with the phrase a “hundredfold,” because it occurs only once in all of the Hebrew Bible, in Genesis 26:12, “Now Isaac sowed in that land and reaped in the same year a hundredfold.”

The rabbis loved to discuss the stories of the patriarchs, and Isaac’s shocking yield of a hundredfold would have quite memorable, and completely impossible without divine help. It was an amazing miracle that God alone could achieve! In the same way, Jesus was saying that the impact of God’s word on those who obey him will be obviously miraculous, beyond anything a human could do on his or her own. While responding to God’s call takes our willingness, the spiritual fruit is so miraculous that it can only come from God!

A Possible Reason for this Parable

A question that must have been on his listeners minds was, “If you are the Messiah, why aren’t you a glorious king that has taken charge by now? Where is your army? Why are so many people not following you? Why isn’t your kingdom huge and powerful?” I wonder if this parable, as well as the ones about the yeast and the mustard seed, were intended as a response. Jesus was defending the fact that he truly is the Messiah. God’s reign on earth had begun on earth and was expanding, even though it was not visible yet.

As Jesus tells it, God is like a farmer that sows a field knowing that much of the land is poor — that many hearts are not open to him. He knows that many will not respond to his call, but this will not defeat his purposes. He knows that like a tiny mustard seed that grows into an enormous tree, when his kingdom takes hold of the few who will receive it, what an incredible impact it will have!5

The Importance of Discipleship for the Kingdom

Understanding the parable can yield insights for us today. Obviously, we need to examine ourselves and look at the “soil” of our hearts. Are we distracted by the cares of this world? How can we be more obedient to do God’s will?

It’s easy for us to insult Jesus’ original audience and assume that he was tossing them aside by telling them how dull they were to his preaching. Are we so different than them, though? Who of us isn’t choked by weeds in our lives? How many of us truly follow wherever Christ leads?

One thing the parable says may surprise us. We often focus on evangelism — the sharing of the Gospel with non-believers — as the central goal of the church, and believe that the most significant event in a person’s life is the day they accept Jesus as Savior. In Jesus’ parable, however, the sprouting of the seed is not the goal, but only an important beginning.

We like to count the number of hands that go up at an altar call as a way of seeing the kingdom expand, but in this parable, the counting is only done at the end, after the fruit has matured. As critical as evangelism is, Jesus is saying that discipleship is just as important to God’s kingdom.

Jesus’ words about becoming a disciple are tough to hear! The road is narrow and we need to count the cost and take up our cross. It’s discouraging to hear how few will really respond, given the thorns and rocks that are so common in this world.

But Jesus promises that through an obedient disciple he can do truly miraculous things to expand his kingdom — far beyond the dreams of human ability! This is what should make us want to set our hearts and wills to following him. Only then will we know the secrets of the Kingdom of God.

~~~~

1 It should be noted that while thousands of parables are found in rabbinic literature, none are found in intertestamental literature, Dead Sea Scrolls, Philo or Josephus. Nonetheless, many NT scholars read only these (and other pre-70 AD) sources but avoid rabbinic material because it post-dates the New Testament.

2 C. Safrai points out the link between study and the kingdom in the sower/soils parable in “The Kingdom of Heaven and the Study of Torah” in Jesus’ Last Week: Jerusalem Studies in the Synoptic Gospels, Vol. I, (ed. R. S. Notley et al; Brill, London, 2006), pp 173-175.

3 Pirke Avot is the Hebrew name for “Sayings of the Fathers,” a collection of rabbinic teachings from 200 BC to 200 AD that was collected in a book called the Mishnah.

4 See “Jesus’ Habit of Hinting.”

5 For more on the word shema, see p. 3-4 in Listening to the Language of the Bible, by Tverberg & Okkema (En-Gedi Resource Center, 2004).

6 Joachim Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus, pp. 149 – 151. For more on the Kingdom of God, see “The Kingdom of Heaven is Good News.”

Photos: Plant [CC], Elijah Hail on Unsplash, Johannes Plenio on UnsplashSushobhan Badhai on Unsplash

The Other Lost Son

by Lois Tverberg

“Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends; but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.” (Luke 15:29-30)

In this parable, we focus almost all of our attention on the prodigal son. But according to Brad Young, the parable really should be named, “The Compassionate Father and His Two Lost Sons.” (1) Dr. Young points out that neither son understands their father’s love, and neither has any love in his heart for the other. Both sons see their father as a paymaster, a source of blessing and gain. The younger son first sees his father as a source of cash that he could spend by claiming his inheritance, and then he sees him as an employer who might take him in. The older son has a similar attitude – he expects his father to give him some reward for his loyalty to the family, and doesn’t care about his brother who has come home.

In this parable we can see all types of relationships toward God. We certainly see the person who has rejected God in the prodigal son. Indeed, by asking for his inheritance, in this culture he would have been saying that he wished his father was dead, because he just wanted to live life enjoying the wealth he had gained apart from his family. In a similar way, many people show that they “wish God were dead” by their desire to ignore him and just enjoy all the material blessings he has showered on us, living life just to satisfy their desires.
Prodigal SonWe often don’t consider that the older son is a picture of a broken relationship too, who even though outwardly he is part of the family, he really sees the father only as a source of reward. He is a person who may be quite religious, but misunderstands God’s enormous love. Rather than valuing an intimate, trusting relationship with God, his feeling is that he must somehow earn God’s favor, and doesn’t see that he is loved in spite of all of observance and good works.

The true hero of the parable is the father who displays amazing love to his very broken family. If only we would love him with the limitless love he has for us!


(1) “The Compassionate Father and His Two Lost Sons” in Jesus the Jewish Theologian by Brad Young, Hendrickson 1995, p 143 – 154.

Photo: 7AEgfhxf52pz-Q at Google Cultural Institute

A Gift That Grows

by Lois Tverberg

“…And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.” – Mark 4:18-19

Growing flower

One year for Christmas I bought two gift boxes of potted bulbs that would bloom as a beautiful bouquet in the middle of winter, if the growing directions were followed. I kept one for myself, and I wrapped the other up and gave to some ladies at my workplace. When they unwrapped their box they “oohed” over the beautiful flowers in the picture on the box, thanked me appreciatively and set it aside. I set my own box aside for a week, and then discovered that the bulbs had sent up stems, and had been growing inside the box on their own with no light or water.

The next time I saw the ladies I saw that their box hadn’t been opened, so I told them that the bulbs were growing already. But it fell on deaf ears, and their box sat unopened in clear view of everyone for some weeks beyond that. I can only imagine that when they opened it, they were saddened to find stems that had grown, gotten yellow and never bloomed because they were not cared for.

What hit me is that this was a little like Jesus’ parable about the seed that was sown on various types of soil. In Jesus’ parable he speaks about people for whom wealth and daily cares act to choke the seed of the Word in their lives, making it unfruitful. In a related way, many of us are excited to get the “gift of salvation” and like to look at the picture on the box, but we don’t open the box and do the work of prayer, discipleship and study. We would rather be busy with our own daily activities and just be glad we are saved.

But God desires more than to give us a box with a lovely picture on it. He gave us a living gift, just like the bulbs in the box! Just like them, the gift of the Holy Spirit is alive in us too, but only can grow in us as much as we let it. How sad if the beautiful bouquet that the Lord had intended to grow from our lives would remain stifled and yellow inside of us. We need to become true disciples so we can bloom in the way he intended.


Photo: stux

Nathan’s Story

by Bruce Okkema

King David and Nathan“The LORD sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.
Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.
David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the LORD lives, the man who did this deserves to die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”
Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man!” – II Samuel 12:1-7

This story is a biblical masterpiece. As we watch the story unfold, we see Nathan setting up David mercilessly, using details that pull at the heart strings. A poor man uses his precious money to buy their only lamb — it becomes the family pet, it eats at their table and it lays in his arms. There is a strong sense that this poor man is sacrificing much for his family to care for this little lamb, but then it is stolen and killed by a rich man who had many of his own.

Nathan tells the story in such a way as to extract David’s words of conviction from his own mouth. It is almost too painful to watch, since David was such a man of honor who, even in the midst of his sin, shows his love for the Lord and his passion that justice be done.

The impact of the story is heightened when we consider that Uriah is from the Hittites who were enemies of the Israelites. He must have been a convert, since we see him living near the palace, eating with the king, faithfully serving the God of Israel, and his wife is observing the Jewish purification laws. When David tries to cover up his sin by coaxing Uriah to go home to his wife, Uriah self-sacrificially refused to do so because his comrades were on the battlefield.

It must have felt like a sword piercing David’s heart when he heard Nathan say, “You are the man.” Nathan goes on to confront David that he has killed Uriah with “the sword of the sons of Ammon,” sons of Lot by his daughters. In his Hebraic culture, David would certainly have seen the double meaning that they too were offspring of sexual sin. As a result, God’s word to David is that the “sword will never depart from this house” (II Sam. 12:10). We read later about all the terrible things that happen to David’s family because of this.

We had times in our own lives when we have failed, just like David. Be encouraged that there is no sin too great for God to forgive. He loves us deeply and wants us to be restored, but sometimes he needs to send a “Nathan” to bring us to confession, so praise the Lord when he does.

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I John 1:9.


Photo:  Paris Psalter

The Golden Table Leg

by Lois Tverberg

Burying TreasureDo not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19-21

(This story was adapted from a rabbinic parable.)

Once upon a time there was an old pastor who had served the Lord faithfully all of his life. He had an anointed ministry, and people found his prayers were powerful and effective. When he prayed for the sick, they often were healed. But with all of that, he was extremely poor, and he and his wife struggled daily to get by on almost nothing.

One day when they were out walking, after they had seen yet another person healed, his wife said to him, “God certainly must have prepared a rich reward for all of your years of work when you get to heaven, and he always seems to listens to your prayers. Why don’t you ask the Lord to give us just a tiny bit of your heavenly reward here on earth so that we don’t have to live in such terrible poverty?” The pastor thought this was a good idea, so right there the two of them asked the Lord to let them have a little something from what God prepared for them early, while they were still alive.

Immediately the sky opened above them, and a table leg made out of gold fell to earth right in front of them. They rejoiced and thought of all the things they could buy with this gift from God. The next morning, the pastor looked very troubled and his wife asked him what was wrong. The pastor said, “Last night I had a dream that we were sitting at a great banquet in heaven, and every family had its own table to sit around. But ours was missing a leg so that it tilted and wobbled terribly!” His wife sat down and considered this a long time. She finally said, “In that case, we must go quickly and ask the Lord to take back the gift he gave us yesterday.”

They prayed, and immediately the heavens opened, and the table leg rose back up into heaven. And this was the greatest answer to prayer of all.*

(I saw the point of this parable after I became friends with some pastors in Uganda who live in great poverty but have wonderful ministries. Where I live, there are many who do similar good work, but have a comfortable, prosperous life here in America. After seeing all the trials that my poorer friends go through, I think, personally, that the Lord will reward them for all the things they lived without in order to serve him.)


*Adapted from “The Two Legged Table” from the book Theology in Rabbinic Stories by Chiam Pearl, Hendrickson, 1997

Photo: Yelkrokoyade

Always Ready

by Lois Tverberg

“Be like men who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks. “Blessed are those slaves whom the master will find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will gird himself to serve, and have them recline at the table, and will come up and wait on them…You too, be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not expect.” Luke 12:36-37, 40

A friend recently told me of his belief that a certain Middle East city would be utterly wiped out in the near future because of how he read Bible prophecy. But the potential death of thousands of people didn’t seem to be much of a concern to him – just that he was excited about “knowing” the future. It seems like we have watched so many gory movies that the suffering of others doesn’t seem real enough to horrify us.

Many folks are fascinated with understanding world events in the light of end-times scenarios. We feel secure by feeling we have an understanding of the story being played out before us, and we get a thrill when a Middle East headline fits our reading of Revelation. But this excitement about end-times can develop into a callous “spectator mentality” that is numb to the suffering of others.

Dog waitsJesus speaks several times about the end times too, and he said of his second coming, “of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” (Mark 13:32). He reminds us that our attempts at date-setting are futile, because not even he knows. But when Jesus talks about being ready for his return like the servants waiting for their master, what does he mean?

Jesus’ parable is to remind us that we need to always be mindful of the fact that he will return to judge, and that we should be faithful at all times because of it. We shouldn’t say to ourselves that if we abandon our walk with the Lord that we can just fix things later, because “later” may not come. All of us should have a special urgency to share the gospel and live lives that are a witness to Christ, that we will be found faithful when he arrives.


Photo: Nicolas Nova

A Good Day’s Pay

by Lois Tverberg

“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard… When those hired about the eleventh hour came, each one received a denarius. When those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius…When they received it, they grumbled at the landowner, saying, `These last men have worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day.’ But he said, `Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? `So the last shall be first, and the first last.” – Matthew 20:1, 9-13, 16

Jesus often used parables to describe the character of God. He did not try to define or categorize him with theological abstractions, but he did paint a picture of God’s personality with colorful stories that grab our attention and sometimes surprise us.

Field Workers

This story is one example of Jesus’ way of showing God’s grace to his audiences. His picture is that of a farmer at harvest time when the grape crop is ripe and needs to be brought in. There was probably some urgency to get the crop in before the fruit spoiled or the weather changed, so that the farmer would keep hiring workers to have as much help as possible. While this may be the case, the reason that he hired the last workers was that they had not found work for the day, so that they would have nothing to bring home to their families. Day workers usually had only sporadic work and lived in poverty. Giving the last workers a full-day’s pay demonstrated his great compassion for them and desire to supply their needs.

The problem comes from the workers who began work at the beginning of the day. He had shown them the same grace by employing them as day-workers too, and they would have known the desperate needs of the other laborers. But instead of appreciating the owner’s compassion, they expected him to shower them with even greater gifts. If the man is generous, certainly he must be rich too, they assumed. His compassion made them greedy for more.

The lesson we should learn is that God is not a paymaster, and we shouldn’t serve him with the expectation of being entitled to his favor. God is just as likely to answer the prayers and bless those who have not “earned it.” And most of all, we should be careful to not resent the “latecomers” – those who may have lived terrible lives and only repent at the very end. By God’s mercy he gives grace to us all, and does not repay us according to what we deserve.


Photo: Vincent Van Gogh at Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow

The Manager’s Shrewd Idea

by Lois Tverberg

“There was a rich man who had a manager who was reported to him as squandering his possessions. He called him and said to him, “Give an accounting of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ The manager said to himself, `I know what I shall do, so that when I am removed from the management people will welcome me into their homes.’ He summoned each one of his master’s debtors, and he began saying to the first, `How much do you owe my master?'”And he said, `A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, `Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ “Then he said to another, `And how much do you owe?’ And he said, `A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, `Take your bill, and write eighty.’ His master praised the unrighteous manager because he had acted shrewdly.”
– Luke 16:1-8, edited

This is another parable that is difficult for us – it seems like Jesus is saying that cheating your employer is a model for us to live by. Was that really what he was saying? Knowing more about the context of this parable may cast new light on Jesus’ message. (1)

Roman CoinsOne thing to note is that the rich man probably lived far away and employed the manager to keep track of his loan repayments. Loan managers, like tax collectors, were paid commissions from the accounts that they oversaw. Thus, the more they could collect from the debtors, the more they earned.

Biblical law stated that a Jew who received a loan could not be charged interest, so charging any more than the principal would have been an unlawful practice. But since it was difficult for the poor to find anyone who would loan money without some kind of compensation, historians think that loans were recorded for a higher amount than their actual value to circumvent the prohibition against charging interest. It would have been the difference that went to the loan manager, and if the loan manager was corrupt, he may have been greatly overcharging for loans as well as squandering his employer’s money.

With this extra information in mind, it casts this parable in a new light. The loan recipients may have hated the manager for his profiteering from the overcharges at their expense. When the loan manager lowered the bills, he may have been correcting the bills back to their true amount, and forfeiting his own pay. By doing this, he would have been “repenting” from the corruption that had been making enemies for himself. Even though it cost him monetarily, he would have gone from being hated to being loved by all the people he dealt with. Even his boss would look good in the eyes of the debtors. Indeed, this may have been the first honest act of his life, when he realized that he needed people’s friendship more than their money.

While we can’t be sure of this scenario, it does paint a different picture of the manager’s act. When he realized that “judgment” was coming from his boss, he straightened out his life so that he would not suffer forever for his corruption. We all know that we will be called to account for our lives, and we should all act wisely knowing that eternal dwellings are at stake.


(1) Historical data comes from a talk given by Dr. Randall Buth called “The Unjust Steward” from the Center for Study of Biblical Research (CSBR).

Photo: Portable Antiquities Scheme

A Little Leaven

by Lois Tverberg

“To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour until it was all leavened.” Luke 13:20 – 21

In this very short parable, Jesus compares the kingdom of God to leaven in a favorable way, describing how a very small beginning point can increase invisibly until it has had a powerful impact on the whole thing.

bread in ovenIt is interesting that he uses “leaven” in a positive way, when it is uniformly used negatively throughout the Bible. This may be because of how leavening was done in biblical times. To make bread dough rise, a lump of old, fermented dough from the day before would be mixed into the new lump of dough. This deliberate contamination was what caused the bread to rise. Outside of this parable, the image is always negative.

Jesus inserts the detail that the kingdom is like “leaven, which a woman took and hid three seahs of flour.” A seah is a measure of about 6 liters, so three seahs would be 18 liters – almost 5 gallons in volume. This would be a large amount of flour, enough to make quite a feast. A small lump of leavened dough would have quite a powerful effect to be able to leaven all of that dough.

Interestingly, when Jesus speaks of the woman using three seahs of flower, He appears to be alluding to Genesis 18:6:

Sarah and bread“Abraham said to Sarah, ‘get three seahs of fine flour and knead it and bake some bread.”

The reference to “three seahs of flour” is unique to that particular story in the Old Testament about when God and his angels visiting Abraham and Sarah.

Jesus is most likely alluding to Sarah, who baked leavened bread and served it to these honored guests! By highlighting this unique detail, Jesus’ audience would have instantly remembered the well-known story about God coming to visit Abraham, the greatest hero of the Jewish people.

It appears that Jesus is using a rabbinic technique to “redeem” leaven in this case, hinting that Sarah used it in a good way when making a large batch of bread for their holy visitors. Probably no modern-day pastor would use such a subtle reference, but that technique is common in rabbinic teachings. References to Abraham and Sarah, some of the greatest heroes, were especially common.

Even though leaven is normally used negatively to describe contamination, as hypocrisy had infiltrated the Pharisees, we see here that Jesus is saying that it can have a positive side too. It shows us that God has the power to “contaminate” our evil world as leaven affects the whole loaf. He can stand back and watch as the tiniest numbers of people, can by his power, spread this “contamination” throughout the whole world.


Photo: Chmee2

The Mustard Seed

by Lois Tverberg

Mustard Seed“What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air perched in its branches.” Luke 13:18-19

The parable of the mustard seed is difficult to understand. What was Jesus’ point, and why did he tell it? What was it saying about God’s redemption through Jesus?

We can get a clue from seeing that it is told along side another parable – the parable of the yeast that works its way through the whole loaf of bread. Often Jesus told parables in pairs, and both stories would have the same main point. So, by comparing parables, we can see their common, important themes.

Both parables emphasize the hiddenness or invisibility at first, but then the powerful effect later on. They are both an answer to the question that Jesus was asked at one point by the Pharisees:

Luke 17:20 Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, `Here it is,’ or `There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.”

Those who questioned him were waiting for God to break into history to destroy all the wicked in one large battle, and they assumed that the Messiah would lead the war. In essence they are asking, “If you are the king, where is the battle? Why aren’t you out shedding blood? Where is your glory?”

Tree of lifeJesus answers with this parable to tell them that he is a different kind of king than they expected. Instead of coming now to destroy the wicked, he has come to begin a kingdom by his own death and atonement. He has come to show mercy toward any who would allow him to be their King and Lord. This kingdom would consist of those who would let God’s reign be established over their hearts, one at a time.

God’s power, manifested in a believer’s life, is invisible at first, but has a powerful effect as it grows deeper in their lives. And, the group of people among whom God’s reign has been established, moves outward in h his power to expand his redemptive reign. In the end, God’s kingdom is like the tree in Ezekiel 31:6, that is a mighty, powerful, and unstoppable. Then, Jesus’ reign will be fully established, and he will be the seen as the glorious king that His people had been waiting for all along.


Photo: Quinn Dombrowski