The U.S average yield for wheat is 50 bushels an acre though it can be as high as 80 in inland Washington and northern Idaho, but they only get it two of three years so it comes out even. The normal wheat field is planted using about 2 bushels of seed. So the average American field yields about 25 fold using seed drills, 40 fold in the Palouse of Eastern Washington. Using broadcast methods as described by Jesus use 50% more seed so the rate is 3 bushels of seed for 50 bushels of yield or 16 fold.
The world record is in the Netherlands where the yield is 130 bushels an acre — in other words, 65 fold.
Even in 2014, 100 fold is not normal. Ah, but if there is 100 fold harvest, then the landowner will be paid, taxes will be settled, the family will be fed, loans will be paid, debts settled, and seed for next years harvest will be stored up. Life will be good — even at 25 fold. If you are a peasant and you hear Jesus speak, you kind of know that sowing is not easy because conditions are hard. There will be rocks, they are just reality, weeds just sort of happen, birds are relentless and omnipresent, and small fields will have much footpath to contend with in comparison to the size of the field. In an agriculture that broadcast seeds — scatter first, plow later — this parable just is plausible somehow. Its miracle is that there is an incredible, unheard of, unbelievable yield. God is good.
But why a whole chapter on seeds and agriculture? The sower, the weeds, the mustard seed are all here. The treasure in the field, the pearl of great price, the parable of the net all are here.
Also gathered into this context are two more tragic stories: the episode between Jesus and his family (12:46-50) which seems to suggest that Jesus is making a cut with his family, at minimum rejecting their claims on him or their authority over him, and Jesus’ own rejection at Nazareth. (13:53-58) He has had to be firm with his family and he has had to suffer the rejection by his closest community for not being in exclusive allegiance with them. The same issue: allegiance is raised here as in 12:46-50.
In the middle (13:16-17) are a few verses that suggest that a new allegiance has been formed, though. The disciples will not hear merely the parables but have them explained to them.
16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. 17 Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.
I would hold that Jesus real ministry has not yet started. No, John the Baptist, his forerunner, will die first. (14:1-12) Then, Jesus will take his own and all their followers to a desolate place and the feeding of the 5,000 will inaugurate his ministry; he will walk on water and beckon his church to trust that, through him, they can do likewise, then arguments with the pharisees will commence about the traditions of the elders. The ax will finally be laid to the root and it is Jesus who does it, not John. His own, his religion, will reject him and leave him to die on a hill and on hill he will tell his disciples that now authority is with him. He will lend them that authority by virtue of his pretense with them always.
I know, I have walked off the Matthew 13 interpretation reservation a bit, but context matters. I am asking a really fundamental question for church and believer, especially in my own place: “Is it worth it, or are we better off playing widow of Zarephath?” (“I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.”)
It would seem to me that converts in Jesus’ time had to pay a price, a steep one at that, to convert. In our day what is the price of commitment?
I am not sure who wrote the column but here is its gist: Once the church was an ocean liner, designed for one thing: Get people from the shore here to another one not seen but dearly longed for over the horizon. It mattered not which deck you had booked passage on. You would stand on that beautiful shore. Without this ship you will not get there.
Today, the article continues, there are no more ocean liners. There are cruise ships. They are much bigger and 100 fold more luxurious than the ocean liners of old. They also go nowhere. They embark in Miami, run around for 10 days and return to Miami and her passengers go from Miami to Miami and not one of them would contend himself with a cabin in steerage. No, all cabins are luxury and accommodation is king. Without this ship . . . you would have to find yourself another means of amusement, that’s all.
In our day, the faith is supposed to “add” something to you that someone finds “useful,” for your presentation as a human being to the world. Church, you are supposed to be “useful.”
What is one to say about this text? It tries to offer assurances to new believers saying: “It is worth it. All you have lost you shall regain and then some; 30 fold, 60 fold, maybe even 100 fold,” and I am not talking about people who have put aside a past of “hard living.” That was a worldly benefit that they should have longed for anyhow and not pine to pick back up. I am not sure we know the type of price paid for Faith right now. I lie awake at night worried that my church might just be the good Cruise Ship Zarephath.