Kingdom of God and Ecology: A Parabolic Perspective

by V.J. John

Dr. V.J. John is Associate Professor of New Testament at Bishop’s College, Kolkata, India and Registrar of the North India Institute of Post-Graduate Theological Studies.

The following article appeared in the Bangalore Theological Forum, Volume 34, Number 1, June 2002, page. 93-123. Bangalore Theological Forum is published by The United Theological College, Bangalore, India. Used by permission. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.


The message that Jesus sought to communicate through the parables from nature was that there is a similarity between the divine work of the Kingdom and that of the process of nature. It is God who is active in both.


The central theme of the ministry of Jesus presented in the Gospels concerns the Kingdom of God. Parables mediate to the audience of Jesus, this experience of the divine rule.1 The idea of the divine rule strongly emerges in the images and stories of the parables. According to the author of the Gospel of Mark the subject of the parables is "the mystery of the Kingdom of God" (4:11). Some of the parables are introduced with words such as, "The Kingdom of God is like . . ." as in the case of the Seed Growing on its Own, the Mustard Seed, and the Leaven,2 while others have used the idea without explicit use of the term. The in breaking of the Kingdom of God is articulated in the parables of Jesus by means of imageries that relate to kingship, family life, relationships in society, and analogies drawn from nature. While those images that relate to human experience in the domestic, economic and social spheres have been given prominence, Jesus’ use of agricultural imageries3 and analogies derived from nature or divine action in nature have not received adequate attention.4 This too, despite divine interaction with humanity taking place in the context of the creation. Wilder has observed, "[In the parables], it is not only human life that is observed but nature as well, or man in nature."5

The use of nature images in the parables of Jesus is a clear indication of the use of nature in the parabolic discourse. The alliance between nature images and the Kingdom of God underscore the need to look afresh at the parables of Jesus in the context of the ecological concerns. Our focus here shall be limited to the Parable of the Soil (Mk. 4:1-9), the Self-Producing Earth (Mk. 4: 26-29) and the Transforming Earth (Mk. 4:30-32). The relationship of these parables to the concerns of ecology can be noted at least in three areas. They are the portraits of the historical Jesus painted in the parables. the link between the medium and the message in the parabolic language and the connection between the Kingdom of God and nature images.

I. Historical Jesus of the Parables

Among the Kingdom parables of Jesus. a number of them have nature as their focus. Most of these agricultural parables that have to do with nature are concentrated in the Gospel of Mark.6 Biblical students generally acknowledge that Mark perhaps is the closest to a rural setting among the four Gospels. This position is further strengthened when we consider that it is in Markan parables that we find the maximum use of agriculture images. As Theissen has observed, ". . . all the parables in Mark come from the agrarian world and deal with sowing and reaping, harvests, and vineyards, we find ourselves in a deeply rural milieu."7 This is another pointer regarding the rural background of the Markan author and perhaps also that of his audience.

The focus on agricultural parables may also serve as an indication of Marks’s resolve to stay closer to the original intention of Jesus8 who has himself, hailed from a rural setting and ministered to a predominantly peasant audience.9 Dahl’s emphasis on the "simplicity and spontaneity" of Jesus’ parables when compared to the Jewish parables, together with their Palestinian origin, seem to reinforce the general agreement that the underlying basis of the parables belongs to those words of Jesus which have been "transmitted with great fidelity."10 Recent studies on the history and sociology of the Palestinian world and particularly that of Galilee11 have thrown interesting light on what could have been the social and mental horizon of Jesus of Nazareth. The Markan author and the parables of Mark therefore provide us with a definite window to glimpse at the life of Jesus and his attitude towards nature. We may consider it by taking a closer look at the social setting of Jesus and the ecological vision of his parables.

A. Social Setting of Jesus

The Gospels portray that Jesus was born Into a poor artisan family in the village of Bethlehem and grew up at Nazareth in Galilee (Mt. 13:54t Lk. 2:4, 51). He is called a carpenter or son of a carpenter (Mt. 13:55-56). The account of the rejection of Jesus at Nazareth records that the people took offence at him with the question: "is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?" (Mk. 6:3). Perhaps it is a hint at the lower social origin of Jesus.12 The two dominant perspectives regarding the social context of Jesus are the view that Jesus was an artisan-carpenter and that he was a small village carpenter. According to the former, Jesus was not confined to the little insignificant village of Nazareth but traveled around Sephoris practicing his trade, and in the process coming in contact with the Hellenistic culture towards which he himself was sympathetic unlike the village folks.13 In the later view Jesus was seen as a simple village carpenter-farmer who made a living by combining village carpentry with agricultural work either on his family’s little plot of land or on others’ land.14

The investigation of the socio-historical setting of Jesus by recent scholarship15 has increasingly recognized his rural peasant upbringing in Nazareth, practicing the trade of a carpenter.16 There have been attempts to study the history and use of the term tektwn for a better grasp of its association with Jesus. According to Freyne, tektwn "certainly is not an indication of a socially deprived condition, but suggests rather, in purely socioeconomic terms, a degree of mobility and status."17 Basing on the concept of craft specialization by villages during the time of Jesus. Nazareth was considered to be concentrating in carpentry.18 McCown’s study of tektwn in the Graeco-Roman world has further strengthened the view that they were mostly workers in wood than in metal or stone.19 Jesus, it has been suggested, may have worked in Sepphoris, a Hellenistic city close to Nazareth. and plied the trade in places like Tiberias.20

Employing a methodology that takes seriously social anthropology, Greco-Roman history and literature that concern the sayings and doings of Jesus, Crossan arrived at the conclusion that Jesus was a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant who worked "among the farms and villages of Lower Galilee".21 As a peasant Jewish Cynic. Jesus’ strategy," claims Crossan, "implicitly for himself and explicitly for his followers, was the combination of free healing and common eating, a religious and economic egalitarianism that negated alike and at once the hierarchical and patronal normalcies of Jewish religion and Roman power."22 The Greco-Roman Cynics, however "concentrated primarily on the marketplace rather than the farm, on the city dweller rather than the peasant." 23

Viewing Jesus as a country peasant who combined marginal farming with village carpentry, Legrand suggests that Jesus’ work must have been in building houses which involved very little wood work since house construction those days was little dependent on wood.24 Therefore, additional farm work was inevitable for the sake of subsistence. Oakman echoes similar view when he says,

It cannot be doubted, even if it is granted that Nazareth specialized in carpentry, that most of the residents of the village occupied themselves regularly with subsistence agriculture. Jesus came from peasant stock and without question was socialized early to the routines of farming.25

However, basing on Josephus (AJ 18.35f.), Oakman argues for a dual role for Jesus that included the role of a village farmer and of a travelling tradesman. The accounts in the Gospels which pictures Jesus on constant travel, according to him, arose from the practice of plying the trade of a carpenter and the work opportunity provided by the massive building projects undertaken by the Herods.26 The occasion also helped him establish contact with various groups of people, many of those, for whom, he had later acted as a broker.27

Citing evidence from Xenophon, Finley points out that the rural carpenter despite being involved in diversification of the carpentry could still not find adequate work to meet the sustenance needs of the family and many supplemented the income by working as a farm hand besides practicing a craft.28 The occupation of Jesus probably consisted of both carpentry and farming. He was then skilled in both, as were many of his contemporaries.29 This view is further strengthened by Jesus’ warning to his would-be followers, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God" (Lk. 9:62)30 Jesus’ competence on the dual job is evident in his invitation to the weary and the heavily burdened, "Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me. . . For my yoke is easy and burden is light" (Mt. 11:28-30). Plow and yoke were primary implements prepared by a carpenter for the use of the farming community and the peasants constantly required the use of these two for their agricultural activities.

The view that Jesus was a village farmer who also has practiced part-time carpentry in his native village and immediate surroundings as corroborated by the parabolic emphases has been confirmed by recent archaeological discoveries.31 Recent explorations have revealed that Nazareth was a small agricultural village that came into being in the 3rd century BCE.32 Settlements in Nazareth were mostly found right at the top, whereas in the nearby "three northern spurs" they were to be found largely "on the slopes, lower ridges, and just off the basins."33 The reason is attributed to the availability of adequate soil coverage and water systems in Nazareth that make agriculture possible even at the hilltop.34 Archaeological digs at Nazareth by Bagatti has shown that the artifacts recovered under the shrines of Nazareth, among others, include silos, olive-pressing and wine-pressing installations, cisterns, and holes for storage jars, some of which coming from a period as early as the Iron Age.35 This led Meyers and Strange to conclude that Nazareth was a peasant village since "the principal activity of these villagers was agriculture."36

Stressing the peasant background of Jesus and acknowledging the role of the social background and artistic skill in molding his thought, Legrand observes, "the type of imagination revealed by the parables is more that of a farmer than that of an artisan."37 He doesn’t subscribe to Crossan’s view of Jesus being a Cynic as cynics are the products of Hellenistic urban culture. Horsley differs with Crossan when he says, "What is distinctive about the Gospel tradition’s representation of Jesus’ teaching is not an itinerant radical individualism, but the renewal or revitalization of local community. . ." 38 The emphasis on Jesus as Cynic, according to him, stems from a lack of consideration of the extra biblical evidence regarding the reaction of the villages towards the Hellenistic culture of Sepphoris and Tiberias.39

Apart from Jesus’ own engagement in farming, his extensive travels in the countryside and involvement with the deprived people of society who earned a living from the bounties of nature, made it possible for him to observe from close quarters the role of nature in agricultural activities. They thus came naturally to him to be used as metaphors in his parables proclaiming the Kingdom of God, to an audience predominantly consisting of peasants and others who belonged to the deprived and alienated social groups.40 The images from nature, therefore, become meaningful to an audience who were in constant relationship with nature in their daily activities on the farm, with its experience of pathos and joy. It brings to their perception in down-to-earth fashion the close connection between the work of nature and divine activity. "A better perception of the rural background of the parables of Jesus" as Legrand concludes, "helps better to appreciate the roots of Jesus in Galilean village life and his originality as a symbol maker."41

B. Ecological Vision of the Parables of Jesus

Human life has been sustained through the past several centuries by land cultivation. Ever since humans discovered the use of tools, agriculture became part of their life. It is this activity that brings the human person in constant relationship with nature unlike any other human engagement. The effect of the human on landmass is felt as one engages in raising crops and grazing animals.42 It is in Jesus’ encounter with farm life in an oppressive social setting that the parables articulate the ecological vision of Jesus. These agricultural parables lay stress on two aspects of the ecological vision of Jesus. The understanding that the process of agriculture as an ecological activity of divine providence that calls for human co-operation with the role of nature, and agricultural process as a pointer towards the reversal of human experiences that adversely affect the orderly function of nature.

1. Process of Agriculture as an Ecological Activity

Looking at the process of agriculture as an ecological activity of divine providence stems from our understanding that farming was an integral part of the ancient life. It was through the practice of agricultural activities that humans learned to relate to fellow-beings and nature and to order the course of their life. It is both an essential activity and one that has great effect on everything else. This meant viewing nature as having life and humanity as being related to it. Despite agriculture’s harmful impact on environmental quality, "farming remains a prime source of metaphors for the correct relationship between humans and the wider natural world." 43 Therefore, agricultural activities are both important and serious and require careful human engagement. In Schumacher’s view, goals of agriculture should be directed "to keep man in touch with living nature, of which he is and remains a highly vulnerable part; to humanize and ennoble man’s wider habitat; and to bring forth the foodstuffs and other materials which are needed for a becoming life."44 Yet over against human activity, the role of nature stands out as the focus of the agricultural parables of Jesus.

The experience of the peasant cultivator was one of hard work (Mk. 4:1-9) on her/his marginal farmland. Besides having to overcome the vagaries of nature, the farmer had to wait patiently for the fruit of one’s labor. The urgency of the farmer or the hard work one put in did not determine even the timing of the harvest. After a natural process of germination and growth that appears to be cyclical, harvest comes in its due season. In the meantime the farmer waited patiently,45 all the while trusting in the divine providence for a fruitful harvest. Human patience is tested throughout the farming operation with unproductive land, problem of weed, failure of rains and attacks from pests, and enemies of crops (cf. GThom.9). Through the passing of the seasons and the process of development of the sown seed, the farmer earnestly hoped that one’s labor will not be wasted, and that one stage would lead to the next until the final day of harvest has arrived.

The parables of the Self-Producing Earth and the Transforming Earth (Mk. 4:26-29; 30-31) allude to the insight that humans do not have much to do with the growth process that is primarily the activity of God. Perhaps it is this thought that was in Mark’s mind for his combining it with the story of the seed that "grows on its own" while the farmer "knows not how."46 The farmers have a vital role to play in the sowing and harvesting, as well as in the intermediary stages of plant growth (tShab 10 (9). 17, 19; pShab 12.l.13c). Yet, there is also a time when the peasant sits back and let Mother Nature do its work. Both, "the earth produces of itself (automath)" (Mk. 4:28) and "when the grain is ripe (passive verb: paradoi)" (Mk. 4:29), according to Perrin, suggests the natural operation. Since the principle of growth comes from God, it can neither be rushed, nor could be improved upon. One has to simply wait for them to occur. Similar exhortations are found in all the parables of the soil.47

The natural process that is at work in the agricultural context calls for the need to withdraw from activities for a time, then to sit back and ponder over the working of creation and to enjoy it. As Borsch reminds us, "some people more than others need to be reminded that humans also have a more passive role to play in the creation -- one of listening, admiring, sitting on the porch, and looking out over the fields."48 It’s activity and passivity together that determine the completion of the natural process. The Kingdom of God, as Crossan tells us, is like an agricultural season. The peasant begins the season with sowing, then continue with the affairs of life as the seed sprouts and grows. In this mystery of growth, the earth produces of its own.49

The regular appearance of the seasons without failure was credited to the divine favor. It is the providential care of God that sends the rains both on the godly and the ungodly making the seeds to germinate and grow and dew for the growth of the fruit.50 Unfriendly climatic conditions so common in the context of Palestine where rains were scanty and seasonal, each time there was a delay of rain, there was crop failure. Looking at the long process that the seed has to endure and the helplessness of the farmer in expediting any of this process along with the long wait, Jeremiah describes it as "A hopeless prospect!"51 But divine grace and providential care see to it that the seed despite its enemies, grow, flower and bring forth a harvest. An yield of thirty, sixty, and a hundred fold is a symbolization of the "divine fullness" of the eschatological period experienced in the present that surprises all human expectations. The agricultural festivals celebrated by the people often-accompanied offerings and thanksgiving for God’s faithfulness in providing right seasons and climate to carry out the agricultural processes. The harvest thanksgiving celebrated God’s faithfulness in providing a bountiful harvest.

Agriculture efforts should therefore be directed towards co-operating with nature. It involves preventing soil erosion and integrating human community with the ecosystem, by preserving "the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. . . ." 52 The natural process manifests itself as ecological rather than mechanical in its outworking.53 It is to be characterized by "frugality, care, security in diversity, ecological sensitivity, [and] correctness of scale." 54 Human experience of frustration and pain as well as joy and happiness in the agricultural process served as a sign of the divine activity of the Kingdom of God. Patient waiting as against instant success, providential care despite human helplessness, and plenitude against poverty and starvation, testify to a reversal of normal experiences of the peasant community. The process of agricultural activity thus serves as a sign of the arrival d the divine rule to the marginalized Galilean peasants. The success at the end of a long-drawn process of the agricultural season comes from the divine care as evident in the exhortation against anxieties. God cares even for the birds of the air and the flowers of the field. As Crossan rightly observes:

Where God’s care for nature’s birds and flowers should obviate human worries about food and clothing. . . . The serenity and security passed by Jesus to his followers derives not from knowing hidden mysteries of past or present but from watching nature’s rhythms of here and now.55

The nature imageries of Jesus from agricultural life have also shattered the prevalent understanding of the divine rule as something that is to approach at the end time with a bang and with an apocalyptic fervor. The people have anticipated the arrival of this divine rule, which will free them of all oppressions and sufferings -- their lot in the present. Jesus has reversed such an understanding with his use of the nature images. To him the rule of God is to be a gradual process brought into culmination in people’s willingness to care for and share with others.

2. Process of Agriculture as a Reversal of Human Experience

The process of agriculture is a pointer towards the reversal of human experiences in nature. The peasant life witnesses to the constant efforts on the part of the farmer despite all odds for the sake of mere survival. Even a bountiful harvest does not appreciably change the situation of the farmer. The produce often goes to meet the peasant’s various life obligations. Commenting on the prayer for bread and forgiveness of debts in the Lord’s Prayer, J. Kloppenborg says, "Bread and debt were, quite simply the two most immediate problems facing the Galilean peasant, day laborer and non-elite urbanite. Alleviation of these two anxieties were the most obvious benefits of God’s Kingdom."56 The agricultural process served an example of the divine potential for a reversal of the peasant experience in such a context.

The Self-Producing Earth has a seed that grew on its own, bringing an essential change in its condition. When sown, it was a seed with potential to grow and multiply. But having been sown, it grows and brings forth a harvest. During the process of growth, there is a reversal in the life process of the peasant and the sown seed. The peasant immediately goes to rest and sleep. In another words, the farmer becomes "non-active. On the other hand, the seed, which was "non-active" so far, becomes active again until it is grown and a harvest is produced. There is a converse process that is taking place. The onset of the harvesting season causes also a change in the life schedule of the farmer. Now that person is made active once more with sickle in hands, as one approaches the field of harvest. The idea of harvest itself has undergone a complete change from one of judgement and condemnation (Joel 3:13) to one of fulfillment and completion. From a single seed to an abundant crop, there is a total change when the harvest has come. Life, thus, comes in its manifold fullness.

To a people who have been struck by "poverty and uncertainty regarding the morrow,"57 as Braudel remarks, the reversal of their present experience is what they have eagerly looked forward to. The nature imagery Jesus picked up from the common experience of his own life and that of his audience assures a change in their present experience. Fullness and joy will once again be their portion when injustice will be uprooted, and nature’s bounty shared. The arrival of the Kingdom of God will mark a total reversal of values and judgement. Advent, reminds Fullenbach, should lead us into a radical reversal and reappraisal of our past and on to a new form of action.58

The Transforming Earth emphasizes the change of a mustard seed from its smallness to its growth as one of large shrubs. In the seed stage, it is something that none would take notice of. But when grown up, it would never miss the attention of anyone who walks by. There is a change in the seed from stillness to a dynamic growth. Thus the process of growth itself is a reversal of the state in which the mustard seed once was, and leading into the fulfillment of a process.59 Such use of metaphor, as that of the mustard seed, "is truly revolutionary and unprecedented, for it seeks to reverse the hearer’s normal expectation."60 Despite these agricultural parables not figuring among the "parables of reversal" in Crossan’s classification, one can not deny that they witness to a process of reversal that was set in motion by the in breaking of the divine rule. Jesus uses them to stress the element of unexpectedness that suddenly upsets the normal experiences of life

Jesus’ ministry, though, began as a renewal movement within Judaism,61 went beyond theological issues, "addressing problems endemic to agrarian, indeed all class, societies."62 Dodd asks, "Was all this wealth of loving observation and imaginative rendering of nature and common life used merely to adorn moral generalities?" He proceeds to answer, "This is not the impression conveyed by the Gospels as a whole."63 Rather it is about the crisis brought about by his appearance. J. Muir, A. Leopold, H. Rolston and J. B. Calicott, among others, emphasized the value of nature in and of itself.64

To be inheritors of this divine blessing, one had to undergo an experience of reversal. The entrants of the Kingdom, according to Jesus, were to become like children, who, as Crossan observes, in the Galilean peasant context were understood to be the nobodies.65 The Kingdom belongs to the poor (ptwcoi, Lk. 6:20; Mt. 5:3; cf. Jas. 2:5). The etymological study of the words poverty (penian) and beggary (ptwcoi) suggest a fine nuance which is normally not noticed by the common translation "the poor." According to Hands, the "Greek and Latin terms commonly translated as ‘the poor’ seldom imply absolute poverty or destitution." They rather refer to the vast majority of people who possessed no estate and enjoyed no leisure or independence, though many of them may have possessed a piece of land. However, ptwcoV suggested absolute poverty, ‘one who crouches,’ and so a ‘beggar.’66

While this fine distinction is generally true, Markan Jesus doesn’t appear to make such a difference. This is perhaps owing to the fact that in the Markan setting, the condition of the peasants seems to be no better than that of the others who are absolutely marginalized.67 While Jesus identifies with the poorest of the poor, in the parables of Mark Jesus is addressing the peasants and their relationship to nature to teach them regarding the values of the Kingdom. It is here that one can not entirely agree with Crossan who said, "Jesus spoke of a Kingdom not of the Peasant or Artisan classes but of the Unclean, Degraded, and Expendable classes."68 Since peasants and artisans belonged to the same class as that of the expendable in the structure of the peasant society, as Lenski has displayed, the emphasis in the agricultural parables seem to be on the marginalized whether peasants or expendables. Oakman has noted the close connection between the Kingdom of God and the social vision of Jesus, demonstrated in his parables, as he correctly assessed,

The historical context of Jesus, therefore, reflects a social and economic situation in which exploitative urbanism, powerful redistributive central institutions like the Roman state and Jewish Temple, concentration of land holdings in the hands of the few, rising debt, and disrupted horizontal relations in society were becoming the norm.69

This has also aggravated the already disruptive relationship between the land and its owner as exploitation became the standard for increased production, badly affecting the productive capacity of the land. Human culture began to adversely affect nature’s function. Jesus was thus led to draw examples from the agricultural context to impress upon the need for the return to a harmonious relationship with nature. Amos viewed (9:13-15) the redemption of Israel from the perspective of the farmer, as his prophesies indicate visions of farmers reunited to their soil, struggling to keep pace with its fertility.70

A people who have been pushed to the periphery from their farmland, as a result of the Herodian policy of city building on agricultural lands, the peasants found themselves against the arduous task of making an inhospitable land fit for cultivation. Not withstanding their hard labor, their marginal land refused to yield a fruitful harvest. To such an audience, this appeal to the agricultural parables, have more to say than a mere exhortation for "trust in God’s future." Rather, they speak of the close connection between life and death. They provide relief and joy from a sense of belonging to "an ordered and bountiful creation." The parables of Jesus seek to "help others into their own experience of the Kingdom and to draw from that experience their own way of life."71 In a time when the delicate relationship between humanity and nature is fast eroding, parables of natural processes and bounty more than ever remind us of "our dependence upon the biological environment that we did not create but must respect."72

The Parables that bear witness to this rule, in the words of Fuellenbach, "constantly surprised and frequently shocked his audience."" The agricultural process is an example of a reversal of such experiences as indicated from the sowing to the harvest season. It is a turn around from no prospects to all prospects. In the words of Jeremiah, "In spite of every failure and opposition, from hopeless beginnings, God brings forth the triumphant end which he had promised."74 This, indeed, is an experience of total reversal. Wegner observes regarding the Parable of the Soil:

This readily imagined farming scene invites readers to enter the story and agree with its premise; the sequence in which one success follows three failures set readers up to anticipate disappointment and then be pleasantly surprised at the final outcome.75

Or again, commenting on the juxtaposition of sowing and harvesting, and small seed and great branches, Crossan remarks:

But the diptych of juxtaposition does not wish to emphasize growth but miracle, not organic and biological development but the gift-like nature, the graciousness and the surprise of the ordinary, the advent of bountiful harvest despite the losses of sowing, the large shade despite the small seed. It is like this that the Kingdom is in advent. It is surprise and it is a gift.76

God’s rule, like the activity of a peasant during an agricultural season, requires cooperation between human beings and the Creator, similar to that between the farmer and the soil. As Waetjen notes, "But the reconstitution of a society in which justice and love prevail requires the kind of human-divine co-operation that occurs during an agricultural season."77 Failure of a fruitful interaction between nature and culture may ultimately lead to the destruction of both as the story of the Flood amply testifies. There can not be a dichotomization of the social and ecological sphere. Acknowledging this Elnes writes, "Environmentalism and social justice may be more closely linked than often recognized. 78

In the agricultural parables, "we are asked to ponder the mystery of God through images drawn from the world of nature." 79 They derive from an attempt to provide "alternative symbolic universe" as a cultural reaction to the peasants’ situation. In the words of Allen Tate: "The abstraction of the modern mind has obscured their way into the natural order. Nature offers to the symbolic poet clearly denotable objects in depth and in the round, which yield the analogies to the higher synthesis."80 While Jesus’ use of the images from nature holds on to its naturalness as nature raw and real, his creative adaptation of the function of nature to emphasize the values of the divine rule stands apart. The teachings of the Rabbis have used stories from nature to impart lessons in human relationships and behavior. Vermes has observed that even when there is a similarity in the material used by Jesus and the Jewish Rabbis, "the careful reader will often notice an individual twist in the New Testament formulation. . . ."81 Except for the parables of the Soil, Weed and Net, Jesus’ parables do not contain any expository details. The aim of the parables is to persuade the listener to "the obligation to adopt an attitude, or perform an act, of fundamental importance."82

The agricultural parables are an indictment of the rich and the powerful who held the poor under their control along with their possession. The land that produced plenty was turned into a source of perennial problem for the peasants under the new dispensation. This was going to be overturned sooner than expected. God is going to make every land fertile. The longing for a regular harvest on the part of the peasants is to be fulfilled. It is in the sharing of the resources that the powerful and mighty can align themselves on the side of the divine rule. In its emphasis on the aspect of reversal with the arrival of the rule of God, the "nature parables" stand in the same relationship with that of the parable of the Wicked Tenants.83 The images also testify to Jesus’ identification with the peasant culture, with its values of sharing, caring and hard work. He has even shared with the rural peasant class in his denouncement against the Herodian urban culture 84 that deprived the poor of their means of livelihood and marginalized them even as the urban centers enjoyed the fruit of their labor. Making use of images derived from familiar experience, Jesus subverts and explodes "myths that build or maintains structures, values, and expectations that thwart the actualization of God’s rule . . ."85

Jesus calls for a two-fold reversal: one that affects the poor and the marginalized in which they will become the inheritors of the divine blessings with a transformation in their entitlement. The other affects the rich and the powerful ruling class whose lives have to be transformed from a desire for acquisitiveness to a willingness to share. The call is for a reversal and return of every human being irrespective of their class belonging to overcome their own values and to attain the divine values. Jesus thus stressed the need for a total reversal of human values to be his genuine disciples.86 The nature imageries of Jesus have also shattered the prevalent understanding of the divine rule as something that is to approach at the end time with a bang and with an apocalyptic fervor. In reversing such an understanding Jesus emphasized the rule of God as a gradual process brought into culmination in people’s willingness to care for and share with others.

II. Medium and Message in the Parabolic Language

A message is always communicated through a carefully chosen medium. It is more so if the message is likely to be misunderstood or difficult to understand. A familiar medium is chosen as the channel to convey an unfamiliar or even abstract message, since the abstract could be known only through the concrete, as noted by Lonergan.87 The imageries used in the parables of Jesus are derived from common, everyday life experiences. "They are," in the words of Dodd, "the natural expression of a mind that sees truth in concrete pictures rather than conceives it in abstractions."88 The parables, then, serve as a faithful guide to the middle class and peasant life in Palestine.89 The realism of the parables with their accurate observations on nature and life led Jeremiah to observe that many of them rose out of some accurate occurrence.90

The parables with their central message of Jesus regarding the rule of God, through their images drawn from nature, serve as the medium of generating understanding regarding that rule. Jesus conveyed to his peasant audience the close relationship between their experience within nature and the message of the Kingdom. These images include those that relate to human life in its social milieu as well as in the wider setting of nature. Images drawn from nature thus became an accustomed medium for Jesus to articulate his teaching on the Kingdom of God. The relationship between the medium and the message may be looked at from two view points namely, the association between image, symbol and metaphor, and the close link between the message and the chosen medium of its communication.

A. Image, Symbol and Metaphor

Reality cannot be perceived in the abstract. It has to be communicated through the means of an acceptable medium. Such mediums used for the communication of a reality are images, symbols, or metaphors. The parables, which seek to proclaim the rule of God, find a similarity between its own world and the world of the listener in its interactive process.91 An imagery is then a symbolization or representation of that reality in the concrete. Lonergan, recognizing the importance of images for generating insight, observed, "it [insight] is a grasping of the relation of the images to the problem’s solution."92 Grasping generates solution to immediate problem as well as universalization of the images’ particularity.93 W. Berry notes with concern that "the most powerful and the most destructive change of modern times has been a change in language: the rise of the image, or metaphor, of the machine."94 Prior to the industrial revolution, the dominant images were organic that had to do with living things. They were, biological, pastoral, agricultural, or familial. God was addressed as a "shepherd," and the people as "the sheep." People were to animals such as having the strength of a lion, or as cunning as a fox.95

A symbol (sumbolon) is a sign that represents or points to something. It is "the token or insignia whereby someone or something was identified. their place in the world fixed."96 P. Wright defines symbol as "a relatively stable and repeatable element of perceptual experience, standing for some larger meaning or set of meanings which cannot be given or not fully given, in perceptual experience."97 In the light of this definition, a symbol gives a perceptual experience otherwise not possible. Yet, it is only a representation of the totality of the larger meaning, which is not subject to perceptual experience in its entirety. So, symbolism is metaphor with the primary term suppressed.98 Penn emphasized that the language of Jesus is symbolic and that the Kingdom is more a symbol than a concept.99 There is a unity between the teachings of Jesus regarding the Kingdom of God and the parables’ relation to it.100 Differentiating between concepts and symbols, Eliade asserts:

Symbols still maintain contact with the deep sources of life; they express, we may say, the ‘lived’ spiritual . . . they disclose that the modalities of the Spirit are at the same time manifestations of Life, and, by consequence, directly engage human existence. . . . The symbol translates a human situation into cosmological terms; and reciprocally, more precisely, it discloses the interdependence between the structures of human existence and cosmic structures. This means that primitive man does not feel ‘isolated’ in the Cosmos, that he is ‘open’ to the World which symbolically is ‘familiar’ to him.101

Perrin distinguishes between two types of symbols: steno-symbols and tensive-symbols: Steno-symbols have a one-to-one relation with what it symbolizes. It’s referent is "knowable in ways other than through the symbol and is exhausted within the symbol."102 A tensive-symbol can not be expressed by any one referent, as the referent itself is symbolic. Kingdom, according to him, belongs to the latter category and has multivalent meaning. According to B. B. Scott,

[The] parables represent Jesus’ choice of the most appropriate vehicle for understanding Kingdom of God. In order to achieve a unified insight into Jesus’ message, the parables must be analyzed so as to focus their understanding of Kingdom in a precise fashion.103

Modern scholarship lays stress on parables as metaphors.104 The root of the study of metaphor is traced to the Greek classics, where it was understood as a single word. Treating it in isolation from its context, Aristotle in his Poetics and Rhetoric, defined metaphor as a single word (p. 4). Following Aristotle, Cicero in the third book of his De oratore defines metaphor as a stylistic device ‘ad illustrandam atque exornandam orationem’. He, too, defines metaphor as a single word, as does Quintilian in book VIII of his Institutiones oratoriae."105

The modern emphasis of metaphor, Westermann notes, is on a piece of text rather than on a single word. It has a textual context that determines its function.106 Metaphor, however, is not considered as an image in modern semantics. Rather, it is a model, which does not derive from images and reality.107 As part of language, metaphor is not only used in a textual context, but also in an oral context, providing a social context for both. So the social context of the metaphor is as much important as the textual context. Unfortunately the emphasis of metaphor in semantics was only on the textual context. The social context of metaphor seems to give importance to the use of images unlike the textual context. Metaphors refer to something other than themselves to the Kingdom of God, which, itself is a symbol. Parables are generated in Jesus’ attempt to clarify this symbol. They refer to the ultimate referent, the Kingdom of God, metaphorically. Metaphor, which serves as a medium that provides insight into Jesus’ parabolic language, is a comparison based on everyday objects or experiences.108 In the words of Wilder, ". . . a true metaphor or symbol is more than a sign, it is a bearer of the reality to which it refers. The hearer not only learns about that reality but also participates in it and is invaded by it. Here lies the power and faithfulness of art."109 Again, as Caird observes,

Some metaphors readily lend themselves to high development because they belong to a metaphor system, i.e. a group of metaphors linked together by their common origin in a single area of human observation, experience or activity, which has generated its own peculiar sublanguage or jargon.110

Rejecting the traditional understanding of metaphor as a ‘pictorial mode of expression’. Ricocur asserts that metaphors rather than being pictorial words are metaphorical statements. They allow a relationship to become visible which ordinary vision would not perceive. "Good metaphors are those which constitute a similarity rather than describing it." 111 While it may not be a ‘speech decoration’ as Ricoeur stresses, it helps in the process of making comprehensible that which is beyond ordinary perception. Therefore Dodd defines the parables thus "At its simplest the parable is a metaphor or simile drawn from nature or common life, arresting the hearer by its vividness or strangeness, and leaving the mind in sufficient doubt about its precise application to cease it into active thought."112 To him parable though a metaphor comes from nature or experience of daily life.

B. The Medium and the Message

As experiences do not take place in a vacuum, the communication and perception of the message takes place through a select medium. Meaning is given to the experience in a referential context. It is the referential horizon that determines one’s perception and understanding, as R. Hart has observed in the case of a cow, that some seek it as an object of worship while others as just beefsteak.113 The referential horizon determines our perception and consequent understanding. There is an inalienable link between the message and the chosen medium through which it is communicated. The parable has a literal and metaphorical meaning. It is the interplay between them that makes the two "reciprocally revelatory."114 The metaphorical character of the parable imagery is to be found in its everydayness. It serves as a lens to look at ones self and the surroundings. As Funk recognizes:

It [parabolic imagery] does not look at everydayness. but through it. It allows that world to emerge in encounter with the hearer. The realism of parabolic imagery consequently, is not, the locus of the parable’s intentionality. . . . But the parable induces an imaginative grasp of the one by the way in which it presents the other. And only in this way can the ‘world’ of the parable be grasped at all.115

Caird sees the vividness of the parable in the juxtaposition of the familiar images along with the unfamiliar.116 Crossan speaks of metaphor as poetic. It attempts "to articulate a referent so new or so alien to consciousness that this referent can only be grasped within the metaphor itself."117 By its very nature metaphor creates new meaning by the juxtaposition of differing images. Through the metaphor one is able to participate in its "new and alien referential world." That world of metaphor becomes the lens through which the hearer views his own world. Ricoeur confirms this assessment, when he affirms that a parable’s meaning as metaphor lies not in the story nor in a culture’s understanding of Kingdom, but in the juxtaposition of parable and symbol.118 Concurring with this view Funk points out:

The everyday imagery of the parable is vivid fundamentally, then, because it juxtaposes the common and the uncommon, the everyday and the ultimate, but only so that each has interior significance for the other. The world of the parable is like Alice’s looking-glass world: all is familiar, yet all is strange, and the one illuminates the other.119

The everydayness of the parable helps create a new way of perceiving reality, based on the common place experience. Parable as metaphor is generated from the experiential world of the teller.120 The comprehensible becomes the vehicle of expressing the incomprehensible. The similarity between the world of the parable and the real world in which the listener finds her/himself serve as the basis.121 The new meaning created by the juxtaposition of the two is dependent on the commonality between the referent and metaphor. This helps the hearer to have a better perception of the reality that the experience represents.122 Otherwise, as Kafka says, "All these parables merely mean the incomprehensible is incomprehensible."123 Parable therefore serves to disclose religious symbols. In parables, says B. B. Scott, "Kingdom as symbol is brought into conjunction with an image created by the metaphor, and that conjunction is the moment of meaning." 124 The parable represents the rule of God not in a single word, but in its entirety.125

Concerning the similarity between the scope of OT comparisons and the preaching of Jesus, Westermann comments:

. . . in both cases we encounter in the comparisons potentially the whole of human and extra-human reality, i.e. the whole of creation. As in the OT comparisons, the addressee of the parables of Jesus is capable of judging the comparison as a creature, equipped by his creator to come to terms with his world and to find his way in it. This gives an increased significance to the statements about creation in the parables of Jesus as well as in the OT comparisons: what happens in creation is reflected in the relationship between God and man.126

It is a common experience to have lost a sheep or a coin, to sow a field, to have weeds grow in his field, to have a disobedient son, or to be unjustly treated. These have become the basis of the correspondence to the Kingdom of God. The correspondence seems to be higher when the similitude is drawn from nature: the security of the rock (Ps. 31:2-3), the sun as source of light and life (Ps. 84:11), a bird’s care for its nestling (Deut. 32:11; Lk. 13:34)127

The parabolic discussions have clearly shown that there is an unbreakable relationship between the message of the Kingdom and the medium through which it is communicated. However, this does not mean that the message is equivalent to the medium. Rather, it does mean that the message can not be grasped apart from the medium employed to communicate the message. The separation of the medium from the message wtll result in the message itself loosing its grounding and the ability to grasp it. Therefore, soil, growth, and harvest as images represent an entire agricultural process, which conveys to our mind in pictorial form, the reality of the message of the Kingdom of God and its working. Westermann’s conclusion at the end of his study of the parables of Jesus from an Old Testament Perspective is illuminating. He says:

Through the use of comparison and parable the image influences the subject of comparison. If the subject is an event between God and man, the image, something which happens in the world as creation and between creatures, influences what happens between God and man. Since all comparisons and parables refer to events in creation and between creatures, these comparisons and parables assign great significance to God’s creation in the context of what the Bible says about God.128

A symbol serves as a means of communication from one person to another. It does not exist for itself or in itself, but bridges the gap between the mind of the sender and the receiver by drawing the two together.129 A commonality among all the terms is essential for communication to take place.130 As Perkins remarks, "Jesus’ nature parables are not romantic poetry. In them, the common world is pictured as a place of God’s transforming presence."131 Dodd offers a typically brilliant explanation regarding the relationship between the two in the parables:

It [the realism] arises from a conviction that there is no mere analogy, but an inward affinity, between the natural order and the spiritual order; or as we might put it in the language of the parables themselves, the Kingdom of God is intrinsically like the process of nature and of the daily life of men . . . Since nature and supernature are one order, you can take any part of that order and find in it illumination for other parts This sense of the divineness of the natural order is the major premise of all the parables. . . . 132

The realism of the parables is that it shows us a world that we recognize. An unexpected "turn" in them is that it "looks through the common place to a new view of reality." 133 As Crossan observes,

The weather we share in common belongs to the exhortation to love enemies (Mt. 5:45). Birds and wild flowers warn us against anxiety (Mt. 6:25-33; Lk. 12:22-32). But at least, and however illusionary it may be, the appeal to nature posits a vantage point from which a radical critique of culture becomes possible.134

III. Kingdom of God and Nature Images

The abstract concept of the Kingdom of God was understood variously by the contemporaries of Jesus. Among them was a longing for the establishment of justice and peace in the context of oppression and suffering. Jesus’ audience has not always understood his teachings regarding the rule of God. He often-used concrete analogies, including those derived from nature to communicate the concept of the divine rule. Many of these creation imageries are found in the agricultural parables which focus on similarities of natural processes and the working of the Kingdom of God, unlike parables with human characters that center around human actions. According the Perkins, parables dealing with natural processes, address "our feelings for the natural world to engender trust in Jesus’ vision."135 Images derived from concrete, everyday human experience in the context of nature, therefore, facilitate insights into our understanding of the divine rule. The "nature parables" testify to a close connection between the way in which the process of nature works and the divine rule unfolds.

A. Role of Nature in Sustenance of Life

The parables of Jesus derived from an agricultural setting speak of the earth and of the various experiences on earth in the context of day-to-day living. All life, including that of the humans, plants and animals require the natural surroundings for its growth and well being. The requirement of water, food and shelter is met from the context within which life is situated. Disturbances and decay of the natural setting therefore, affects the very survival of life. Quality of soil determines the kind of harvest; good soil yielding a bountiful harvest while poor quality soil hinders it. The farmer admires the rich, fertile soil. The peasant’s recognition of being linked to the soil determines the kind of relationship that one maintains with it. It is this recognition of one’s closeness to the land that made them pay tithes and offerings to the Temple. Yahweh was the owner of the land and the farmers his lessees.136 Therefore, farming that abuses soil is bad farming as it is inconsistent with the true spirit of farming itself.137

The parable of the Soil (Mk. 4:1-9) emphasizes the importance of the right kind of soil for the growth of the sown seed and for a successful harvest. Climate and soil are the two important aspects of agriculture in any context. Hamel points out that it was even more so in Palestine and the rest of the Mediterranean basin.138 Since rains were scarce, their regularity was essential for the success of a farmer’s labor. The combination of the timing, the volume of rain received, as well as its penetration into the soil, is all to be held in a delicate balance. While too much of rain could wash away topsoil, too little would be insufficient to moisture the soil. Failure of rain could work havoc as indicated by the special prayers offered for rain at Solomon’s dedication of the Temple (cf. I Kings 8:35-36) or Elijah on Mt. Carmel (I Kings 17-18). Human labor could be fruitless (Jer. 5 1:58) as one’s labor would not bring any harvest without the blessings of God accompanying it, in the form of favorable weather conditions.

The parable of the Self-Producing Earth (Mk 4:26ff.) lays stress on the natural process that finally culminates in the harvest. While the work of nature in fulfilling its role is often invisible to us, we are assured that the seed sown on good soil ultimately comes to fruition aided by rain, sunshine, and the process of changing seasons. It is with this assurance of God’s work of miracles that the farmer goes about the other business, knowing fully well that the harvest will not fail.139 It is interesting to note that in comparing the word of God to a fruitful harvest, Isaiah draws upon the imagery from the work of nature.

For as rain and snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall be my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (55: 10-11, NRSV)

Next to rain comes in importance, the soil. Again, Hamel observes,

The soil structure falls into three main categories: rather naked and rough mountaintops; slopes that have been smoothed and covered with deposits of limestone, sandstone, or marly clay, and small alluvial plains. In summer the mountaintops and hills are mostly used by the shepherds. The slopes carry planted (olives, vineyards)-and sown crops. The alluvial plains are suitable for more crops and garden vegetables, especially when properly irrigated.140

The parables of Jesus through the use of various imageries not only speak of the essential role of nature in making the earth habitable, but also in revealing the presence of God in the natural world.

B. Nature as the Promoter of Life

Life that originates on the earth is also maintained on earth. The harmonious functioning of the process of nature ensures promotion of life on planet earth. Whenever the equilibrium maintained by the natural systems is disturbed, life gets affected. Air, water, food and shelter are basic to the survival of life. All of these are made available in nature. The pollution of air and water or the disturbance of the food chain and destruction of habitats are all detriment to the preservation of life. Nature’s balance ensures that the delicate systems are properly maintained. The fecundity of the earth and the order and regularity in the functions of nature are examples of nature’s role in sustaining life. Human intervention, in modern times has, however, altered the harmonious relationship in the functioning of these systems. The creation images found in the parables of Jesus concern the role of nature in an agricultural context and "engage those fundamental layers of human consciousness at which we feel our relationship with nature."141

Peasant involvement in nature is primarily through their relationship with the earth in the production of food and fodder. "One pole of that relationship," argues Perkins, "represents the earth as fruitful beyond belief. It engenders the myths of natural paradise in dreams and stories the world over. The other pole is the anxiety attached to the outcome of our labor." 142 Despite human callousness in their relationship towards the earth, to a large extent, the earth takes on its stride the suffering inflicted on it by humanity. In sowing the field, the farmer works for a harvest, which would ensure an adequate supply for human consumption and animal life, besides seeds for the furtherance of the process in the coming season. It guarantees the reward of human labor, brings joy and gratitude from a fulfilled life. P. B. Thompson observes, "Agrarian society considered divine blessings in the form of abundant harvests as their engagement was in horticulture, animal husbandry and the production of crops all of which involved risk factors."143 So, fertile soils, crops, and animals were evidence of the blessings of God. Aldrich recognizes this close connection between humanity and the earth in his remarks:

At times the land seems bountiful and kindly, and again harsh and unyielding, but it is always a challenge to human strength and ingenuity and people have learned to adapt their ways accordingly. . . agriculture continues to involve the relationship between humanity and the plant and the soil in which it grows . . . . To the peoples of antiquity, the unity of human and soil was the great primary fact of existence. ‘And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground’ ancients feeling of kinship to the soil. The ancients recognized soil as a living thing, deriving its energy from the sun.144

The divine rule operates in a similar way as that of the outworking of the natural processes. Unlike the stress on a sudden outbreak of the rule of God in the apocalyptic concept of the Kingdom of God, the nature parables emphasize its gradual appearance, one step leading to the other until it reaches the final stage of fulfillment. As the soil determines the outcome of the harvest, reception or rejection of the message of the Kingdom is determined by the kind of reception accorded to the received message in the first place. The parable of the Soil has been called a ‘parable on parables’ because of the life of God that it witness to through an abundant harvest.145 At the arrival of the harvest, the peasant is overjoyed for the opportunity for his involvement in the creative process of producing something.146

There is regularity in the appearance of seasons. One follows the other in its proper order and enables the earth to produce. The regularity of nature not only ensures a proper harvest at the end of the season, but also is a witness to the divine grace manifested in nature’s activity. Divine rule over the people is displayed when, as Findlay points out,

The Father sends His rain and sunshine down on the evil and the good, and simply goes on being God, giving Himself, however unthankful and churlish the recipients of His bounties show themselves to be. Here, at least, natural and revealed religion speak with the same voice, for they both show us a God apparently both unthrifty and undiscriminating.147

It is the divine grace that ensures ‘while the earth endures, seed-time and harvest, summer and winter, shall not cease.’ God "makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous" (Mt. 5:45) without discrimination. God’s provision for the birds of the air and the care for the lilies of the field are examples of his assurance that the humans will in no less be cared for by the divine grace (Mt. 6:25-33; Lk. 12: 22-32).

The imagery drawn from the Transforming Earth the mustard plant serves as shelter for the birds, ensuring the protection of these creatures of God, and thus promoting life. Crampsey aptly observes regarding this parable that,

From an ecological horizon of interpretation, this must challenge the hearer about the understanding of even the most insignificant feature of the interconnectedness of the whole earth community. It might also be appropriate to note that there is no human actor in this imaging. We have once again been invited to consider the birds of the air.148

The emphasis of the use of nature images in the parables seems to be twofold. Firstly, on the normal outworking of nature rather than any allegorical use. Nature raw and real is the point of attention. They speak of a continuous happening -- a creaturely process of growth, rather than a one time occurrence. The power of growth comes from God rather than human influence. Secondly, the images in their isolation is not that matter, rather the total process which is represented by these images

C. Kingdom of God and Ecology

The association of Jesus with the farm life has led him to view the divine working from the perspective of the work of nature. Markan Jesus makes use of the parables’ emphasis on nature images to explain to his audience, the concept of the Kingdom of God.149 Nature serves as a medium for the perception of God’s dealings with humanity. The recognition of the parables as being drawn from the daily experiences of the peasant life, in the first century Palestine, 150 lays stress on the close connection between ordinary day-to-day experiences in life and the message concerning the divine rule.

Though Wilder and Funk recognized the close relationship between humans and nature, their emphasis was on Nature as human activity and relationship. Both overlooked the role of nature, the focal point of the "nature parables."151 Dodd and Jeremias have devoted much attention to the setting of the parables in the life of Jesus. Their studies have broken new ground in enhancing our understanding of the parables and their relationship to the Kingdom of God. They found the realism of the parables of Jesus as their distinguishing mark when compared to the parables of the Old Testament and that of the Rabbis. Both have noted that the parables of Jesus were drawn from the day-today experience in society and nature. Yet, their interpretations have not paid adequate attention to the "realism of nature" to which they themselves have called attention. The emphasis, once again, lends to favor the reality of everyday occurrences in human relationships. Both saw rhe parables in terms of their relationship to the eschatological Kingdom.152 Little attention was, therefore, paid to the context of nature. Goulder emphasized that the parable is a story, but ignored that the story could have imageries in its narration.153 Westermann advocated the division of the parables into either images or stories,154 which again were rather difficult.

In the traditional understanding, Nature was looked upon with a utilitarian perspective without consideration for its intrinsic value. Diesing has pointed out: "[Nature] appears in three forms: natural resources, cultivated land . . . . and externalities of production. Natural resources are free goods, res nullius, nothings, having no value until they are ‘produced’ and made available for exchange."155 Yet, the everyday occurrences. in human life in a given social and ecological context, becomes the locus of the parabolic teaching of Jesus. In such a context, the emphasis of Funk on the "earthy imagery" of parable directing human attention towards his/her mundane existence156 becomes more appropriate.

Jesus’ choosing to use the images derived from nature in his communication of the divine rule indicts the human attempts to measure the worth of nature in terms of its utility value. The agricultural activity with which the audience of Jesus was most familiar had become the context from which Jesus has drawn his metaphors that explained the Kingdom of God. As a means of communicating divine activity, Nature has its own value. It does not merely exist for the sake of humanity, but for its own sake and as witness to God and his benevolent activity of care. The parables in Mark 4, based as they are in the context of agriculture, make use of several images derived from nature and the divine activity in the process of nature, to speak of the concept of the Kingdom of God. The soil, the seed, the process of growth and development, and the harvest are all images that are used with reference to the divine rule.

The success of any agricultural activity is determined by the kind of soil in which the farming takes place. "Soil provides nutrient content, aeration, and pest infestations basic to crop production, besides support to root stocks and drain water."157 As in the first three instances of the parable of the soil, the poor quality soil is incapable of producing a harvest since the barren soil is inimical to the productive process. But good soil produces in manifold quantities and provides for the consumption needs of humanity, satisfying their hunger. In the parable of the Self-Producing Soil, the seed cast on the ground grew on its own (automath) and brought forth a harvest without the farmer’s aid. The moisture in the soil and the nutrients it held aided the germination and growth process, first as a sapling, and then, to a full plant, till it attained maturity and brought forth a harvest thus witnessing to the miraculous outworking of the power of God. When the mustard seed was sown on the Transforming Earth it grew and became the greatest of all shrubs, providing shelter to birds of the sky. Folklore and religion, therefore, emphasized the ‘spirit of the soil’ as against the scientific view that saw soil as dead matter.158 It is this close relationship between humankind and the earth that led L. H. Bailey to remark,

So bountiful hath been the earth and so securely have we drawn from it our substance, that we have taken it all for granted as if it were only a gift, and with little care or conscious thought of the consequences of our [ab]use of it; nor have we very much considered the essential relation that we bear to it as living parts in the vast creation.159

The emphasis of ‘automatic’ is on a self-regulatory process that keeps on fulfilling its responsibilities without any break. The soil thus brings forth by itself. The climate, the seasons and the geography all are contributing factors in the agricultural production. The failure of any one badly affects the entire process of plant growth and therefore, also the harvest. It is this close unity of the Mediterranean ecology, which was in mind when Boissevain pointed out in his review of the book, The People of the Mediterranean, that it is more than just a place of meeting, trading and war. The distinctive character of the region is to be found in its sea, climate, terrain, and mode of production context, within which people worked hard, to meet their needs.160 At no stage of the process the farmer is able to manipulate the outcome. He could only hope for the best, as each stage is unfolded in its order from germination to growth and from flowering to fruition and ripening of the harvest.

Analogy of the Kingdom of God to harvest lays accent on the culmination of the divine intervention in the process of growth, unlike the "catastrophic" intervention suggested by the imagery in the Old Testament use. The stages of growth, as Dodd himself has noted, do not find adequate attention in this interpretation. A bountiful harvest is attributed to God’s favor. The arrival of divine rule is to be marked by plenitude with increased productivity and fruitfulness. Grain is a representation of plenty. Nature, therefore, is to be looked upon as sacred, rather than as a mere agent of utility for human needs, towards which human beings are called to relate with a sense of duty.161 The arrival of the harvest, as may be noted from the case of the mustard seed, asserts that the time has come when the blessings of the Kingdom of God are available for all including non-human creation. 162

However, nature is not only an epitome of divine favor and blessings but also a manifestation of divine wrath. God’s dealings with humanity are witnessed at times in the fury of nature, often perceived as divine punishment. Thus, nature serves as an epitome of divine happiness or displeasure with the affairs of humanity from ancient times. The great Flood of Noah was a cause of divine punishment. Similarly drought, famine, pestilence, locust and war were signs of divine anger against human disobedience and sin. The earth brings forth thorns and thistles instead of fruitfulness and plenty. There is an element of mystery that the parables contain. According to Bornkamm,

But this mystery is nothing but the hidden dawn of the kingdom of God itself amidst a world which to human eyes gives no sign of it. And this must surely be heard, believed and understood -- not against a background of tradition or theory, but by the hearer in his actual world.163


Jesus’ close association with nature in his struggle for daily existence helped him share the struggle of many of his country people of the time. This has also provided opportunity for his first hand experience of the difficulties faced by his fellow-beings as well as to keenly observe the working of nature and its rhythms. In communicating the message of divine rule to these common peasant folks, Jesus successfully made use of imageries which both, he and his audience, were familiar with. The message that he sought to communicate through the parables from nature was that there is a similarity between the divine work of the Kingdom and that of the process of nature. It is God who is active in both. There is a convergence in his method of working.

The disruption of the process of nature will result, both in causing hardship to the farmer in meeting his survival needs and distort the ways of God’s working. Therefore, it is essential that the process of nature be respected not only for our own good, but also to leave the possibility open for God’s communication through the process of creation to take place unhindered. The parables using imageries from the process of agriculture in the Palestinian context lay stress on the divine working as clear and as mysterious as that of the natural processes. The total process of the agricultural season as the experience of a farmer then serve as Jesus’ point of departure in communicating the divine rule. In this connection it could be noted that apocalyptic language turns into sapiential language in which nature is given positive significance. Findlay, dwelling on the relationship between the work of God and nature in the parables of Jesus has pointed out:

In every case Jesus is concerned with a cross-section of what we call ‘nature’, a word He could have never used, for to Him this world was alive with God, and wherever His Father was at work, there was nothing that was not supernatural in the sense that we may know that it happened, but how it happened no one can tell us. But we shall not really ‘see’ the Kingdom of God in these everyday miracles of nature and human life unless we look and look again, and not only look, but mark the spot at which the vision came to us, that we may know where it will repay us to make further explorations.164

End Notes

1. C. H. Dodd. Parables of the Kingdom (London: Nisbet, 1935). pp. 32-33; N. Perrin. Rediscovering the Teaching of Jesus, NT Library (SCM, 1967), pp. 82ff.

2. Cf. Dodd, Ibid.; J. Fuellenbach, The Kingdom of God: The Message of Jesus Today (Maryknoll. New York: Orbis, 1995), pp. 70-71.

3. P. B. Thompson. The Spirit of the Soil: Agricultural and Ecumenical Ethics (London and New York: Routledge, 1995), pp. 3, 5.

4. P. Perkins, Hearing the Parables of Jesus (New York/ Ramsey, N.J.: Paulist Press. 1981), pp.2, 16.

5. A. Wilder, Early Christian Rhetoric: The Language of the Gospel (London: SCM, 1964), p. 82.

6. V.J. John, "Ecology in the Parables: The Use of Nature Language in the Parables of the Synoptic Gospels", Asia Journal of Theology 14, No. 2 (October 2000), pp. 305ff.

7. G. Theissen, The Gospels in Context: Social and Political History in the Synoptic Tradition, trans. by L. M. Malony (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991). p. 238.

8. The narrator takes us to a variety of special locations. "Some of these suggest the rural terrain of Galilee -- sea and sea-shore, mountain, desert place and fields, whereas others reflect various forms of social grouping -- synagogue, house, village, boat. As the narrative progresses, various patterns begin to emerge in relation to the different locales. The desert is the place of quiet refreshment and prayer (1:35; 6:31); the mountain too is a place of quiet (6:46), but also of election and disclosure (3:13; 9:2). It is along the sea-shore that the crowd usually assembles (2:13; 3:7:4:1: 5:21:6:34, 45,55), but it can appear elsewhere also: around the house (1:33:2:2,15; 5:24)or in a desert place (6:31). S. Freyne, Galilee, Jesus and the Gospels. Literary Approaches and Historical Investigations (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988), p.62.

9. J. D. Crossan, The Historical Jesus. The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1991). A more popular version is Jesus, A Revolutionary Biography (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco 1994).

10. N. Dahl, "The Parables of Growth," Studia Theologica 5 (1951), p. 134.

11. Sec G. Vermes. Jesus the Jew: A Historians Reading of the Gospels (St. James’s Place: Collins, 1973); R. A. Horsley, Archaeology, History, and Society in Galilee. The Social Context of Jesus and the Rabbis (Valley Forge, Pa: Trinity Press International, 1996).

12. R. MacMullen, Roman Social Relations. 50 B. C. to A. D. 384 (New Haven, CT: London: Yale University Press, 1974). 107-8: Cited by Crossan, The Historical Jesus. 29: See also G. F. Lenski, Power and Privilege: A Theory of Social Stratification (New York: McGraw Hill, 1966), pp. 276-77.

13. See for instance Crossan, The Historical Jesus.

14. Cf. L. Legrand, "The Parables of Jesus Viewed from the Dekkan Platteau". Indian Theological Studies 23, No.2 (June 1986), pp. 154ff.

15. Crossan, The Historical Jesus (1991): R. A. Horsley & J. S. Hanson. Bandits, Prophets, and Messiahs: Popular Movements in the Time of Jesus (San Francisco: Harper & Row. 1985); R. A. Horsley, Jesus and the Spiral of Violence: Popular Jewish Resistance in Roman Palestine (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987). For a discussion of the current scholarly thinking on the historical Jesus See S. McKnight "Who is Jesus? An Introduction to Jesus Studies." in Jesus Under Prophets, and Messiahs. M. J. Wilkins and J. P. Moreland, gen. eds., (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1985), 51-72.

16. According to R. MacMullen, the artisan included both the weaver of wool (eriourgos) and linen (linourgos) as well as the carpenter (tekton). Jesus belonged to the latter (Mk. 6:3 cf. Mt. 13: 55). See MacMullen, Roman Social Relations, 107-8. Cited by Crossan, The Historical Jesus, 29.

17. Freyne, Galilee, Jesus and the Gospels, 241.

18. J. Klausner, Jesus of Nazareth; His Life, Times and Teaching, trans. H. Danby (New York: Macmillan, 1925), 178 n. 29: Based on Halevy’s Shemoth ‘Are Eretz Yisrael in Yerushalayim,’ ed. Luncz, 4:11-20 as cited by D. Okasan. Jesus and the Economic Questions of His Day, Studies in Bible and Early Christianity, Vol. 8 (Lewiston/Queenston: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1986), p. 178.

19. Oakman, Economic Questions, 180.

20. S.J. Case, Jesus. A New Biography (University of Chicago. 1927), p.205. See Oakman, Jesus and the Economic Questions, pp. 180-81.

21. Crossan. The Historical Jesus. pp. xxviii-xxix.

22. Ibid., pp. 421-22.

23. For a critic of Crossan’s presentation of Jesus as a social revolutionary and a discussion of other views including Jesus as a sage and a religious genius see S. McKnight, "Who is Jesus? An introduction to Jesus Studies," in Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus M. J. Wilkins and J. P. Moreland, gen. eds., (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995), pp. 52-72.

24. Legrand. "The Parables of Jesus," p. 166.

25. Oakman. Economic Questions. p. 179.

26. Oakman, Economic Questions, pp. 180-81. Cf. also Horsley, Archaeology, History and Society in Galilee, p. 181.

27. Oakman, Economic Questions, pp. 192, 194f.

28. Xenophon’s Cyropaedia, 8.2.5 cited by M. I. Finley, The Ancient Economy (London: The Hogarth Press, 1985). p. 135. Cf. Legrand. "The Parables of Jesus," pp. 166-67.

29. L. Turkowski, "Peasant Agriculture in the Judaean Hills," Palestinian Exploration Quarterly 100 (1968), p. 30; 101 (1969), p. 103.

30. Discusses the authenticity of the saying and Jesus’ use of it with relation to the Kingdom. See M. G. Steinhauser, "Putting One’s Hand the Plow: The Authenticity of Q 9:61-62," Forum 5. No.2 (June 1989), 156.

31. V.]. John, "Ecology in the Parables". pp. 323.

32. J. F. Strance, "Nazareth," in Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol. 4, pp. 1050-51

33. D. H. K. Amiram, ‘Sites and Settlements in the Mountains of Lower Galilee’, Israel Exploration Journal 21 (1971), pp. 136-140.

34. S. Freyne, Galilee From Alexander the Great to Hardian 323 BCE to 135 CE. A Study of Second Temple Judaism (Wilmington, Delaware: Michael Glazier; Notre Dame University: University Press. 1980). p. 11.

35. B. Bagatti. Excavations in Nazareth, vol. I, From the Beginning till the XII Century (Jerusalem. Franciscan Printing House, 1969), pp. 27, 35, 52-59.

36. E. M. Meyers and James F. Strange, Archaeology, the Rabbis and Early Christianity: The Social and Historical Setting of Palestinian Judaism and Christianity (Nashville: Abingdon, 1981). 56 cited by Crossan, Time Historical Jesus, p. 16.

37. Legrand, "The Parables of Jesus." p. 165.

38. R. A. Horsley, Archaeology, History and Society in Galilee: The Social Context of Jesus and the Rabbis (Valley Forge, Pennsylvania: Trinity Press International, 1996), pp. 179-81.

39. Ibid., p. 179.

40. Other than peasants, those whom Jesus ministered from the lower strata of society included: sinners (Mk. 2:15), prostitutes (Lk. 7:37; Mt. 21:32), the sick (Mk. 1:40:2:3), the widows. See Nazareth -- Hoffnung der Armen 2 Aufl. (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1981), pp. 24-30.

41. Legrand, "The Parables of Jesus," p. 165.

42. P. B. Thompson, The Spirit of the Soil, p. 1.

43. Ibid., 2.

44. F. F. Schumacher, Small is Beautiful (New York: Harper & Row, 1972), p. 113.

45. Recognizing this fact B. T. D. Smith terms the parable of Mk. 4: 26-29 as the Parable of the Patient Husbandman. See his Parables of the Synoptic Gospels (Cambridge: CUP, 1937), pp. 129ff.

46. F. H. Borsch, Many Things in Parables: Extravagant Stories of New Community (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988), p. 123.

47. N. Perrin, Rediscovering the Teaching of Jesus (New York: Harper & Row, 1967), p. 159.

48. F. H. Borsch, Many Things in Parables: Extravagant Stories of New Community (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988), p. 123.

49. H. Waetjen, A Reaordering of Power: A Socio-Political Reading of Marks Gospel Minneapolis. Fortress, 1989). p. 107.

50. G. Hamel, Poverty and Charity in Roman Palestine, First Three Centuries CE, University of California Publications, Near Eastern Studies, Vol.23 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), p. 104.

51. J. Jeremias, Parables of Jesus, trans. S. H. Hooke, rev. ed. (New York: Scribner’s, 1963), p. 150.

52. Thompson, The Spirit of the Soil, p. 118.

53. J. B. Callicott, "The Metaphysical Transition in Farming: From the Newtonian Mechanical to the Eltonian Ecological," Journal of Agricultural Ethics 3. No. 1 (1990), pp. 36-49. Cf. Thompson, Time Spirit of the Soil, pp. 126-27.

54. W. Berry, The Gift of Good Land. Further Essays Cultural and Agricultural (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1981). p. 41.

55. The Historical Jesus, 295. See also M. G. Steinhauser. "The Sayings of Anxieties. Matt. 6:25-34 and Luke 12:22-32," Forum,, 6. No. I (March 1990): 74-75.

56. J. S. Kloppenborg, "Alms, Debt and Divorce: Jesus’ Ethics in Their Mediterranean Context," Toronto Journal of Theology 6 (1990). p. 192.

57. F. Braudel. Time Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Phillip II, Vol. 1, trans. by S. Reynolds (New York: Harper & Row, 1972), p. 245 cited by Crossan, The Historical Jesus, p.4.

58. Fullenbach, The Kingdom of God, p. 76.

59. Dodd, Parables of the Kingdom, 179.

60. B. B. Scott, Jesus, Symbol-Maker for the Kingdom (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1981), p. 73.

61. G. Theissen, Sociology of Early Palestinian Christianity (Philadelphia: Fortress. 1978), p. 1.

62. Oakman. Economic Questions, pp. 217.

63. Dodd, The Parables, pp. 25-26.

64. N. Bryan, Toward Unity Among Environmentalist (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991); A. Leopold, A Sand County Almanac (London: Oxford University Press, 1949): H. Rolston, Environmental Ethics. Duties to and Values in time Natural World (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1988); J. B. Calicott, "Agroceology in Context," Journal of Agricultural Ethics 1, No. I (1988), pp. 3-9.

65. Crossan, The Historical Jesus, p.269.

66. A. R. Hands. Charities and Social Aid in Greece and Rome, Aspects of Greek and Roman Life (London: Thames & Hudson, 1968), pp. 62-63 as cited in Crossan. The Historical Jesus, p. 272.

67. See also Soares-Prabhu, "Class in the Bible: The Biblical Poor a Social Class?" in Voices from the Margin. Interpreting the Bible in the Third World, R. S. Sugirtharajah, ed.. (SPCK, 1991), pp. 156-57.

68. Crossan, The Historical Jesus. p. 273.

69. Oakman, Economic Questions, p.211.

70. R. C. Austin, Hope for the Land: Nature in the Bible (Atlanta: John Knox, 1988), pp. 210-11.

71. J. D. Crossan, In Parables: The Challenge of the Historical Jesus, Eagle Books (Sonoma, California: Polebridge Press, 1992). p. 51.

72. Perkins, Hearing the Parables of Jesus, pp. 77-78.

73. Fullenbach, The Kingdom of God, p. 72.

74. Jeremias, Parables of Jesus. p. 150.

75. Ibid., p. 116.

76. Crossan. In Parables. p. 50.

77. Waetjen, A Reordering of Power, 108.

78. E. E. Elnes, "Creation and Tabernacle: The Priestly Writer’s ‘Environmentalism"’, p.153.

79. J. A. Crampsey. "Look at the Birds of the Air . . ." The Way 31 (October 1991), p. 293.

80. A. Tate, "The Symbolic Imagination," p. 99 quoted by Crossan, In Parables, p. 49.

81. G. Vermes, The Religion of Jesus the Jew (SCM, 1993), p. 78.

82. Ibid., 117.

83. H. Waetjen, "Imitations of the Year of Jubilee in the Parables of the Wicked Tenants and the Workers in the Vineyard." p. 62.

84. Freyne, Galilee, Jesus and the Gospels, pp. 143-45; Horsley, Archaeology, History and Society in Galilee, pp. 83ff.

85. Waetjen, A Reordering of Power, p. 110.

86. V. K. Robbins, Jesus as Teacher. A Socio-Rhetorical Interpretation of Mark (2nd ed., Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1991), pp. 156-66.

87. B. Lonergan, Method in Theology (New York: Herder & Herder, 1972), p. 213.

88. Dodd, Parables of the Kingdom, pp. 15-16.

89. Ibid. p.21. Idem., The Authority of the Bible (London: Nisbet. 1948), pp. 148-52.

90. Jeremias, Parables of Jesus, pp. 11-12, n.3; 23. Cf. Wilder, Early Christian Rhetoric. p. 81ff.

91. A. T. Cadoux, The Parables of Jesus: Their Art and Use (London: James Clarke, n.d.), pp. 50f.

92. B. Lonergan, Insight (New York: Basic Books, 1957), p.9.

93. B. B. Scott, Jesus, Synmbol-Maker of the Kingdom, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1981), pp. 96-7.

94. W. Berry. The Gift of Good Land, pp. 113.

95. Ibid.. p. 113.

96. J. Drury, "Symbol." A Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation," eds., R. J, Coggins and J. L. Houlden (London: SCM Press; Philadelphia: Trinity Press International. 1990), p. 655.

97. P. Wheelwright, Metaphor and Reality (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1962; Midland Book Edition, 1968), p. 92.

98. R. W. Funk, Language, Hermeneutic and Word of God: The Problem of Language in the New Testament and Contemporary Theology (New York: Harper & Row, Pub. 1966), p. 53.

99. Perrin, Jesus and the Language of the Kingdom, pp. 1, 33. See also E. Linnemann, Parables of Jesus: Introduction and Exposition (London: SPCK. 1966), p. 25.

100. B. B. Scott, Jesus, Symbol Maker for the Kingdom. p.5.

101. M. Eliade, Symbolism, the Sacred, and the Arts. ed., Diane Apostolos-Cappadona (New York: Crossroad. 1985), pp.5,13.

102. B. B. Scott, Jesus, Symbol-Maker of the Kingdom, p. 10.

103. Ibid., p. 11.

104. G. B. Caird classifies comparison into one of four classes: perceptual that appeal to any of the five senses, synaesthesia "is the use of connection with one of the senses of terms which are proper to another, as when we speak of sharp words (Is. 49:2; Acts 15:39; Heb. 4:12)" "Affective comparison are those in which we feel or value, the effect to impression of one thing is compared with that of another" while in pragmatic comparison we compare the activity or result of one thing with that of another. See his The Language and Imagery of the Bible (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press), pp. 145-47.

105. See C. Westermann, The Parables of Jesus: In the Light of the Old Testament, trans. & ed. by F. W. Golka and A. H. B. Logan (Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 1990), p. 180.

106. Ibid., p.95.

107. Weinreich, Semantik der Metapher (1970). pp.95, 100. Cited by Westermann, The Parables of Jesus, p. 181.

108. Caird, Time Language and Imagery of the Bible, 145; B. B. Scott, Jesus, Symbol-Maker, pp. 11-13. Cf. R. Redfield, The Little Community and Peasant Society and Culture (Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press, 1960; Phoenix Books, 1963), p. 162.

109. Wilder, Early Christian Rhetoric, p. 92.

110. Caird, The Language and Imagery of the Bible. 155.

111. P. Ricoeur, ‘Stellung und Funktion der Metapher in der biblisehen Sprache’. in: P. Ricoeur and E. Jungel, Metapher, EvT (Sonderheft 1974), p. 48.

112. Dodd, Parables of the Kingdom, p. 16.

113. R. Hart, The American Home-World: Reality and Imagination." Lecture delivered in a series "Imagination and Contemporary Sensibility." University of Montana: quoted in R. W. Funk, Jesus as Precursor, Semeia Studies (Philadelphia: Fortress Press and Missoula: Scholars Press, 1975), p. 66.

114. Funk. Language, Hermeneutic and the Word of God, p. 158.

115. Ibid., p. 159.

116. Caird, The Language and Imagery of the Bible, p. 190; Cf. Funk, Language, Hermeneutic, and the Word of God. p. 136.

117. Crossan, In Parables, p. 12.

118. P. Ricoeur, "Biblical Hermeneutics." Scm,,eia4 (1975), pp. 33-34.

119. Funk, Language, Hermeneutic and Word of God, p. 160.

120. Crossan, In Parables, pp. 17-22.

121. Cadoux, The Parables of Jesus: Their Art and Use, pp. 50f.

122. B. B. Scott, Jesus. Symbol-Maker, pp. 16-17.

123. F. Kafka, Parables and Paradoxes (New York: Schocken Books, 1961), p. 11.

124. B. B. Scott, Jesus, Symbol Maker, p. 66. Cf. C. R. Bowen, "The Kingdom and the Mustard Seed," AJT 22 (1918), pp. 562-69.

125. Cadoux. The Parables of Jesus: Their Art and Use, p.52.

126. Ibid., p. 153.

127. B. B. Scott, Language, Hermeneutic and Word of God, p. 154.

128. Westermann. The Parables of Jesus, p.202.

129. S. Wittig, "A Theory of Multiple Meanings,’ Semiea 9 (1977). p.79.

130. B. B. Scott, Jesus, Symbol-Maker of the Kingdom, p. 168.

131. Perkins, Hear Then The Parables, p.89.

132. Dodd. The Parables of the Kingdom, p.22.

133. N. Perrin. "The Modern Interpretation of the Parables of Jesus and the Problem of Hermeneutics," Interpretation 25, No.2 (1971), p. 140.

134. Crossan, The Historical Jesus, p.75.

135. Perkins, Hearing the Parables of Jesus. p. 76.

136. Cf. Freyne. Galilee, Jesus and the Gospels. pp. 192f..

137. Thompson, The Spirit of the Soil pp. 2-3.

138. Hamel, Poverty and Charity in Roman Palestine, pp. 101ff.

139. J. A. Findlay, Jesus and His Parables (London: The Religious Book Club, 1951), p. 22.

140. Hamel, Poverty and Charity in Roman Palestine, p. 102.

141. Wilder, Early Christian Rhetoric, pp. 141f.

142. Perkins, Hearing the Parables of Jesus, p. 77.

143. Thompson, The Spirit of the Soil. p. 55.

144. D. G. Aldrich, Jr. "Soil and Soul -- Land and Life," The Liff Review 43, No. 3 (Fall 1986), pp. 3. 4.

145. Findlay. Jesus and His Parables. p. 20.

146. Thompson, The Spirit of the Soil, p. 47.

147. Findlay, Jesus and His Parables, p.21.

148. Crampson, "Look at the Birds of the Air." p. 293.

149. H. C. Kee. Community of the New Age (London: SCM, 1977), p. 94.

150. Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus, p. 11.

151. Wilder. Early Christian Rhetoric p.82. Funk, Language, Hermeneutic. and Word of God, pp. 155-56.

152. Dodd, Parables of the Kingdom, p. 198: Jeremias. Parables of Jesus, pp. 11Sf.

153. M. D. Goulder, "Characteristics of the Parables in the Several Gospels,’ Journal of Theological Studies 19 (1968), p.47.

154. Westermann, The Parables of Jesus in the Light of the Old Testament, p. 182.

155. P. Diesing, Science and Ideology in the Policy Sciences (Hawthorne, New York: Aldine, 1982), p. 294. Cited by Thompson, The Spirit of the Soil, p. 46.

156. Funk, Language, Hermeneutic, and Word of God, p. 156.

157. Thompson, The Spirit of the Soil. pp. 74-75.

158. Ibid., pp.6, 18.

159. L. H. Bailey, The Holy Earth (New York: The Christian Rural Fellowship, reprint 1946), p. 1.

160. Boissevain. et al., "Toward an Anthropology of the Mediterranean," Current Anthropology 20 (1979), p. 83 cited by Crossan, The Historical Jesus, p. 5.

161. Thompson. The Spirit of the Soil, p. 9.

162. Dodd. Parables of the Kingdom. p. 191.

163. Bornkamm, Jesus of Nazareth, p.71.

164. Findlay, Jesus and His Parables, p. 19.