Monthly Archives: February 2017

The Parable of the Sower

Last evening the Life group which my wife, Leonora, and I host discussed Jesus’ parable of the sower (Matthew 13:1-23) guided by The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups’s questionnaire for beginning groups.

MT 13:1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop–a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 He who has ears, let him hear.”

MT 13:18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. 22 The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. 23 But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (NIV)

The questionnaire was divided into two parts, Looking into the Scriptures and My Own Story. For each I allowed at least five minutes for members of the group to answer the four or five multiple choice questions in it and then we shared our answers. Although only four of our seven or eight regulars were present, we had a good discussion. However we didn’t reach a consensus in answering most of the questions and so here I’ll give just the questions except for the last question in each section.

Looking into the Scriptures
1. If you had been in the crowd when Jesus shared this parable, how would you have felt?
2. Why do you think Jesus used this illustration to explain how people receive his message?
3. What is the “crop” that the seed is to produce?
4. What is Jesus really saying in this parable? – We agreed on “if you’re not producing, it’s not the fault of the seed..” In each case the sower and the seed were the same’ only the soil differed.

My Own Story
1. If you had to divide your life from BIRTH to RIGHT NOW into four quarters (Like the quarters of a football game), how would you describe each quarter as far as the spiritual values that Jesus preached and live? On the line below, fill in the quarters of your life–starting with CHILDHOOD as your first quarter. Then, for each quarter, jot down one of the four soils.
2. In the period of your life where you indicated the best crop, what was the contributing factor?
3. In the period of your life where you indicated the poorest crop, what was the contributing factor?
4. If you were to take God seriously for 30 days, what would it mean in practical terms?
5. Which of these “farm trivia” facts would encourage you the most as you “sow” the “seed” of the gospel? – We divided between “a seed of grain can yield 100 times its own weight” and “the crop cannot be determined as the seed is planted.” We observed that the latter should be encouraging to pastors in their preaching and to all of us in our witnessing.

Aristotle

“We live under a constitutional form of government. We are, as citizens, constituent members of the State and its ruling class. No man is our political superior: those who hold the offices of state are our representatives, chosen by our suffrage. We are thus free men and equals. In other countries, where the reign of constitutional law is unknown and no one is a citizen, the despotic power wielded by some men subjugates the rest.

“The blessings of political liberty and equality, which we so often take for granted, are the gift of two great inventions for which we are indebted to the ancient Greeks–constitutions and citizenship. In the whole history of political thought and action, there are no ideas more revolutionary than these. Aristotle’s Politics is the first full statement of the theory of these ideas. Its opening book repeatedly calls our attention to the fundamental difference in the condition of those who, on the one hand, live as slaves or as the subjects of despotic kings and those who, on the other hand, live as citizens under constitutional governments and who, therefore, are ‘free men and equals, ruling and being ruled in turn.’” (“Aristotle: Politics” in Mortimer J. Adler and Peter Woolf, A General Introduction to the Great Books and to a Liberal Education, volume 1 of The Great Ideas Program, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1959, pages 47-48)

Aristotle was a Greek philosopher who was born in the small Greek colonial town of Stagirus on the Aegean Sea near the Macedonian border in 384 B.C.; attended Plato’s Acedemy in Athens in 367-347; helped set up and taught in an academy in the newly-built town of Assus on the Asian side of the Aegean Sea in 347-44; moved to Mytilene, capital of the nearby island of Lesbos, where he studied natural history in 344-342; tutored Alexander (the Great) and studied/taught in Macedonia in 342-336; established and taught in a school in Athens called the Lycaeum in 336-23; and died in Chalcis (his mother’s hometown) in 322. Great Books of the Western World devotes two volumes to his writings, most of which represent lectures which he delivered at the Lycaeum.

In volume 2 of The Great Ideas Program, The Development of Political Theory and Government, Adler and Woolf discuss Books III-IV of Aristotle’s Politics. In them Aristotle considers citizenship, the various forms of government, and the best state.

Aristotle opens his consideration of citizenship by asking, “Who is the citizen, and what is the meaning of the term?” (Politics in volume 9 of Great Books of the Western World, Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1952, page 471). After considering various answers to the question, he defines a citizen as “he who has the power to take part in the deliberative or judicial administration of [the] state [which he is a citizen of]” page 472). In accordance with the custom in his day, his definition doesn’t include women and children (or slaves), but today they can be citizens. After defining who is a citizen, Aristotle considers the virtue of the citizen, concluding that “the good citizen … should know how to govern like a freeman, and to obey like a freeman” (page 474).

Aristotle begins his consideration of the forms of government by affirming that government (the supreme authority in a state) must be in the hands of one, a few, or the many and by distinguishing between true forms of government and their perversions, true forms of government being ones in which the rulers govern with a view to the common interest and their perversions being those forms of government in which rulers govern according to their private interests. He goes on to identify the three forms of true government as kingship or royalty, aristocracy, and a constitution and their perversions as tyranny, oligarchy, and democracy and then, because of difficulties about these forms of government, examines each of them at length.

Two things stood out to me in Aristotle’s consideration of the best state, his stressing the importance of a large middle class (neither very rich nor very poor) in having stable government and his recognizing that a particular form of government may be best for some people and another form for other people. Incidentally Aristotle devotes the last two of the eight Books in Politics to picturing the Ideal State and describing the educational system it should have.

Please feel free to ask me to elaborate anything that I’ve said above about Aristotle’s consideration of citizenship, the forms of government, and the best state in Books III-IV of his Politics.

When introducing my The Great Ideas Program series of posts, I said that I’d “decided to post in [my blog] reports on my readings in The Great Ideas Program in weeks when our Life group didn’t meet.” Our not having a meeting last Thursday because of renovations taking place inside our house, I posted “Plato” last Friday. Yesterday we had a meeting but, its being late when we finished our Voice of the Martyrs study, decided not to do the scheduled study of the parable of the sower. Thus today I’m posting “Aristotle” instead of a report on our study of the parable of the sower. Moreover our Life group has decided to return to doing our Voice of the Martyr studies and our Bible studies in alternate weeks. Thus I’m now going to make The Great Ideas Program and the parables of Jesus posts in alternate weeks.

Plato

Plato was a Greek philosopher who lived in the city-state of Athens from 428/427 to 348/347 B.C. For several years he operated a school of higher education, called the Academy, in his home. He composed a number of dialogues in which an earlier philosopher, Socrates, discusses philosophical topics with various people. In The Republic they examine the nature of justice. Arguing that it would be easier to see justice in the state than in the individual because of the state’s larger size, Plato (through Socrates) considers the ideal state in Books II-V of its ten Books.

Plato begins his consideration of the state by stating that it exists to enable people to aid each other in providing for their needs and thus requires the presence of workers in different occupations–he identifies artisans, traders, retailers, and labourers as necessary in any state and various professionals as also present in a “luxurious State.” He goes on to observe that as a state’s population rises its territory may become insufficient, causing it to try to annex some of its neighbours’ territory, and thus it needs warriors as well as workers. Next he adds that it will also need rulers, which he argues should be chosen from the class of warriors. Initially Plato calls the warrior class “guardians,” but later he suggests applying that term only to rulers and designating warriors “auxiliaries.” He proposes that to ensure that the auxiliaries put the good of the state before themselves they have no private property or wives (and households) of their own. He argues that this will promote unity in the state, which he claims is the greatest good in the state.

My first reaction on reading Plato’s description of the ideal state was alienation at his proposing not allowing those in the military to have private property and wives and households of their own. Reading others’ comments on his proposal made me realize that I wasn’t the only one to have such a reaction. For example, in The Great Ideas Program Mortimer J. Adler and Peter Wolff observe, “This writing has shocked some people by its proposal of … the possession of all things in common, including wives and children” (Volume 2: The Development of Political Theory and Government, Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1959, page 1). They continue, “It has shocked others by its portrayal of an authoritarian, hierarchal state, with a ‘guardian’ elite, a philosopher-king, and a ‘royal lie’ [that God had framed the different classes] to keep the lower classes content…. It has also been considered a heavenly community … and its influence has come down the centuries to utopian communities in the United States … and to the communal settlements in modern Israel” (pages 1-2).

Incidentally here is what Plato concluded about justice. He identified four virtues in a state–wisdom, which he associated with the rulers or guardian class; courage, which he associated with the warriors or auxiliary class; temperance, which he associated with the working class; and justice, which he summed up as “when the trader, the auxiliary, and the guardian each do their business” (The Dialogues of Plato in volume 7 of Great Books of the Western World, Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1952, page 350). Then he said that just as there are three classes in the state there are three principles in the individual–appetite, reason, and passion–and that in the same way as a state is just when each of the classes does its own business an individual is just when “the several qualities of his nature do their own work” (page 354).

The Great Ideas Program

Recently I began rereading parts of The Great Books of the Western World guided by The Great Ideas Program. The latter has ten volumes:
1. An Introduction to The Great Books and to a Liberal Education
2. The Development of Political Theory and Government
3. Foundations of Science and Mathematics
4. Religion and Theology
5. Philosophy of Law and Jurisprudence
6. Imaginative Literature I
7. Imaginative Literature II
8. Ethics: The Story of Moral Values
9. Biology, Psychology, and Medicine
10. Philosophy

I finished volume 1 about the same time as I decided to rename my blog, which had started as Open Theism and was currently Pauline Studies. Concurrent with my renaming it Bob’s Corner, I decided to post in it reports on my readings in The Great Ideas Program in weeks when our Life group doesn’t meet, including during its summer break.

Wise and Foolish Builders (Matthew 7:24-29)

Last evening the Life group which my wife, Leonora, and I host discussed Jesus’ parable of the wise and foolish builders (Matthew 7:24-29) guided by The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups’s questionnaire for beginning groups.

MT 7:24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

MT 7:28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law. (NIV)

The questionnaire was divided into two parts, Looking into the Scriptures and My Own Story. For each I allowed five minutes for members of the group to answer the five multiple choice questions in it and then we shared our answers. Between our doing the two parts, we discussed The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups’s DIG question on the parable. My Own Story’s being personal, I won’t report here on our answers to the questions in it.

Looking into the Scriptures
1. Today’s forecast in my life is for: – This question’s being personal, I won’t share our answers here.
2. Who is Jesus describing in this passage? – We chose “a crowd faced with a big decision.” I noted that although the parable was addressed to Jesus’ disciples (Matthew 5:1-2), the passage observes that “the crowds were amazed at his teaching” (NIV).
3. The rock Jesus recommends as a strong foundation is: – Although most of us chose “Jesus himself,” we agreed that “faith expressed in action” was also a good choice.
4. The sand Jesus refers to is: – Although most of us chose “the world’s values,” we agreed that “wishy-washy commitment” was also a good choice.
5. The point of this story is: – Although most of us chose “if you don’t follow Jesus, spiritual disaster will follow,” we agreed that these options were also brought out in the story: everybody builds a house somewhere, everyone will experience storms, and survival depends on choosing the right foundation.

Dig
(Question) How do the similarities and differences between the two house builders reflect the people who heard Jesus? What kind of commitment is Jesus calling for here? What is the alternative? (Used by permission of Serendipity House, Littleton, Colorado 80160)
(Answer) Both house builders built a house, and all the disciples (and people) heard the words of Jesus. One house builder built his house on a rock and the other built his house on sand, and some people put the words of Jesus into practice and other people didn’t put his words into practice. Jesus is calling for complete commitment here. The alternative is lack of or wishy-washy commitment. (This is my answer edited after the group discussion of the question.)

Before our discussion of the parable, Leonora led us in singing and prayer and Ray Noble, our church’s Voice of the Martyrs’s representative, shared the account of a persecuted Christian. After our discussion of the parable, Ray led us in prayer for our prayer requests and Leonora served us lunch.