As was usual with Him, Jesus took in the scene that rose up before Him, the people gathered on the shore, the hill with its richness and poverty rising up behind; for His purposes it was enough. And now He would make use of it in a new way. Hitherto He had taken the sights and materials about Him to illustrate what He had to teach; now He would reverse the process. Henceforth men must discover for themselves the meaning of His words. It was indeed a complete transformation; as they sat about, the disciples could not help observing it. Later they spoke of this day as one marking a distinct development; only then did they realize all it signified. Hence the solemnity with which the Evangelists open their description:
“The same day Jesus, going out of the house, sat by the seaside; and great multitudes were gathered together and hastened out of the cities onto him, so that He went up into a boat and sat in the sea. And all the multitude stood upon the land by the seaside. And he taught them many things in parables, and said unto them in his own doctrine: “Hear ye. Behold the sower went out to sow his seed; and whilst he soweth some fell by the wayside, and it was trodden down and the birds of the air came and ate it up. And other some fell upon rocky ground, where it had not much earth; and it shot up immediately, because it had no depth of earth. And when the sun was risen it was scorched, and because it had no root nor moisture it withered away. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it; and it yielded no fruit. And some fell upon good ground, and brought forth fruit that grew up and increased, and yielded some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, and some thirtyfold.”
Certainly a beautiful and peaceful introduction; an eclogue. There was a pause; the people waited for the rest. What is this? There was an expression on His face; a shadow of the sadness He had shown, that morning when He turned in anger on the Pharisees, seems to pass over Him now. He seems not happy, he seemed disappointed; clearly the men in such numbers before him, and the enthusiasm they professed, meant little to him at this moment. Still they waited for what He next would say, the doctrine He would draw from this story; they were surprised, they wondered what He might mean, when, with an abrupt conclusion,
“he cried out: he that hath ears to hear, let him hear.”
This is all that we are told; the sermon ended there. To the astonishment of the gathered crowd He stepped out of the boat, and made as if He would go. The sun had now sat behind the hill, and the shadows were gathering fast.
It had been a long day; they let Him go. The crowd broke up and saw its rest; some in town, most along the bank where the regular lapping of the waves inviting all the world to silence. To us after all these years, and after learning the interpretations given by the Master Himself, the meaning of the parable seems so clear as to the obvious. But if we take them apart, without any explanation whatsoever, it will easily be seen how mysterious, how like deep riddles, they must have appeared to those multitudes by the Lake of Galilee. Even to us there are parables still not finally interpreted; how much more must it have been to them! It was certainly a new beginning. Hitherto all that He had said had been plain and explicit, never more than in a culminating Sermon on the Mount. Now all was changed. He would have them discover for themselves; nay, He put before them doctrines which of themselves they would never interpret. The key to His meaning they would need to apply to a definite teacher; the teaching by parables was the founding of the authority of the teaching Church.
It was more. The time was passing fast, and the end of all was already beginning to loom in sight. He had much yet to do and say; above all He had to tell men of things that were in themselves beyond the reach of human understanding. That they might be able to accept these things though they would not understand them; that their faith in Him as Man, which was all that at present He had won, might rise to faith in Him as truly Son of God; for this a new mind was needed. It was necessary now that they should be trained to accept truths and doctrines which at first they would not grasp, truths which they could take only on the aithority of another. When they had become reconciled to this, then they would more easily receive the highest teaching of all that in no long time He would give them; teaching which, judged by their present human standard only, would be “a hard saying,” and wholly unacceptable. Thus step by step, without any harshness or compulsion, did Jesus lift up and train the minds of men to receive the full interpretation of Himself.
Some such realization as this came upon the Twelve after they had listened to the sermon by the sea. Jesus did not waste His words; He would not spend His time in just entertaining an interested audience. The picture He had drawn of the Sower and his Seed, though to many it seemed merely a picture, yet, because it came from Him, must have something deep beneath it. They discussed it with one another; His last words,
“He that hath ears to hear let him hear,”
had made them doubly serious; yet could they not agree among themselves what exactly it might mean. Nevertheless they knew that it was vital that they should understand. They had been chosen; He had expressly told them that soon He would send them out to teach others; for their better training He was keeping them with Him wherever He went. They would go to Him; they would confess their ignorance; they would ask Him to give them light.
The evening had closed in and the Master had retired to His cottage to be alone. But the Twelve knew where to find Him; they also knew that, come when they might, their coming would never be taken as an intrusion. He might at times escape from others; there is never once a sign that He wished to escape from them, unless for their own sakes to keep them from sharing His danger. They could come to Him whenever they would; His love of their company, at the end, grew to a great reliance; to miss this trait, this ever-increasing love of, this trust in, this human dependence on the Twelve, binding them to Him by emptying Himself out before them till they know He was in need of their support, their companionship, their affection, is to miss another of the characteristic features of Jesus, at once the strongest and the weakest of men.