Chapter 13. Parables of Regeneration
1. And in that same day, Jesus, going out from the house, sat by the sea.
2. And many crowds gathered together to Him, so that stepping into a ship, He sat; and all the crowds stood on the shore.
This episode begins with the words, “On the same day” (13:1). It is still the Sabbath, and Jesus is still active; this time, however, instead of healing the multitudes, He is preaching to them: “And great multitudes were gathered together to Him, so that He got into a boat and sat: and the whole multitude stood on the shore” (13:2).
The previous episode, spiritually seen, was about the importance of regeneration. In this next episode, Jesus tells seven parables which describe the process He has called “the sign of the prophet Jonah.” The seven parables describe the only true miracle we should seek — the miracle of regeneration. This is a miracle that we can both understand and be a part of, for this is the miracle whereby we are changed from natural beings into spiritual beings.
Jesus reveals the details of this miracle in seven seamlessly connected parables about this process. 1
The Sower: The First Parable of Regeneration
3. And He spoke to them many [things] in parables, saying, “Behold, there went out a sower to sow;
4. And in his sowing, some [seeds] indeed fell along the way, and the birds came, and devoured them.
5. And other [seeds] fell on rocky [places], where it had not much earth, and straightway it sprang up, on account of not having depth of earth;
6. And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away.
7. And others fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up, and choked them.
8. But others fell on the good earth, and gave fruit, indeed some a hundred, and some sixty, and some thirty.
9. He that has ears to hear, let him hear.”
10. And the disciples coming, said to Him, “Why speakest Thou to them in parables?”
11. And He answering said to them, “Because to you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of the heavens; but to them it is not given.
12. For whoever has, to him shall be given, and he shall have abundance; but whoever has not, even what he has shall be taken away from him.
13. On this account I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, neither do they understand.
14. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah, who says, ‘By hearing you shall hear and shall not understand, and looking you shall look and shall not see.
15. For the heart of this people has become gross, and with [their] ears they hear heavily, and their eyes have they closed, lest [at any time] they should see with the eyes, and hear with the ears, and understand with the heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.’
16. But happy [are] your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear.
17. For amen I say to you that many prophets and just [men] have longed to see what you look upon, and have not seen, and to hear what you hear, and have not heard.
18. Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower.
19. When anyone hears the Word of the kingdom, and understands not, the wicked [one] comes, and seizes upon what was sown in his heart; this is he that was sown along the way.
20. And that which was sown upon rocky [places] is he that hears the Word, and straightway with joy receives it.
21. And he has not root in himself, but is temporary; and when affliction or persecution comes because of the Word, he is straightway caused to stumble.
22. And that which is sown among thorns is he that hears the Word; and the anxieties of this age, and the deceitfulness of riches choke the Word, and it becomes unfruitful.
23. And that sown upon the good earth is he that hears the Word, and understands, who also bears fruit, and does, indeed some a hundred, and some sixty, and some thirty.”
The regeneration process begins in the same way that life begins: a seed is sown in fertile ground. As Jesus says, “Behold, a sower went out to sow” (13:1). The sower who goes forth to sow is God, and the seeds that He scatters are the truths of His Word. Now sometimes these seeds fall by the wayside and birds devour them before they can take root. This is what happens when people have no understanding of the Word. Even the seeds that would tend to take root are snatched away quickly by the “birds” — our flights of imaginative fantasy in which we invent distorted, self-serving notions of what the Word is really teaching.
And then there are the seeds that fall on stony places. Though there is little depth of earth, these seeds take root and spring up quickly. But when the sun comes out, they easily get scorched and wither away. These are compared to those times when we initially understand the Word, and are excited about our new insights. But when trials and temptations come, we cannot bear the heat. We have not taken these new teachings to heart. And so, lacking depth of root, we are not able to endure the heat of our trials. Our faith dries up and withers away.
Other seeds fall among thorns. When the thorns grow up, the new plant is smothered and choked. This represents the times when we get caught up in the cares of the world and the accumulation of riches. These materialistic concerns pile up until we are totally pre-occupied with earthly life, caring little for heaven. The cares of the world have choked out the possibility of our beginning a new life.
However, there are some seeds that fall on good ground. These represent what happens when we hear the Word, understand it, and do it. These are the seeds that “fell into good ground and brought forth fruit” (13:8).
Often regarded as ‘the parable of all parables,” this simple story is about the first step in the regeneration process. The “Sower,” who is the Lord plants seeds of goodness and truth in us. Do we take care of this seed, nurturing and cultivating it? Do we regularly water it with truth? Do we regularly expose it to the warm sunlight of loving acts of kindness? And, most importantly, have we received it in the good ground of a humble heart? If so, we have taken the first step on the journey of our spiritual development.
Wheat and Tares: The Second Parable of Regeneration
24. Another parable He set before them, saying, “The kingdom of the heavens is likened to a man sowing good seed in his field.
25. And while the men slept, his enemy came, and sowed tares in the midst of the wheat, and went [his way].
26. And when the blade sprouted, and bore fruit, then appeared also the tares.
27. And the servants of the householder, coming, said to him, ‘Lord, didst thou not sow good seed in thy field? whence then has it the tares?’
28. But he declared to them, ‘A man, an enemy, has done this.’ And the servants said to him,’Willest thou then that we go and collect them?’
29. But he declared, ‘No, lest while you collect the tares, you root up the wheat together with them.
30. Let both grow together even to the harvest, and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, First collect the tares, and bind them into bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.’”
Jesus then proceeds to relate a second parable. While the first parable in the series emphasizes the sowing of good seed by God, this second parable emphasizes the sowing of evil seed by the enemy. Good seeds produce wheat that will be gathered together and put into barns; evil seeds will produce tares that will be gathered together and burnt (13:24-30). We should note that Jesus does not immediately explain this parable. At the simplest level, the well-disposed among the multitudes might take it to mean that people receive both good seeds and evil seeds — good ideas and bad ideas. They might also take it to mean that good ideas will lead to good results; bad ideas will lead to bad results.
This would be enough for those who were not yet capable of greater understanding, but the disciples want to know more. “Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field,” they say (13:36). And so Jesus proceeds to tell them, “He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man” (13:37). By this time there can be no confusion in the minds of the disciples. He has been with them long enough, and spoken often enough about “the Son of Man,” that they know He is referring to Himself. Jesus has already said, “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (8:20); “The Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins” (9:6); “The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they say look a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (11:19); and then, most tellingly, “The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (12:8).
To the disciples, then, it is quite clear that “He who sows the good seed” is Jesus the Divine Preacher. It is Jesus Himself who sows the seeds of truth in people’s hearts. He then adds, “The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one. The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels. Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age” (13:38-40).
Jesus now refers to “The Son of Man” again: “The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those that practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth” (13:41-42). It should be noted that greater and greater power is attributed to the Son of Man throughout this gospel. At first He has “nowhere to lay His head”; then He has “power on earth to forgive sins,” and now, in this episode, He has power even over the angels: “The Son of Man will send out His angels.” This is another dramatic step forward as Jesus gradually unveils His true nature.
In the same way that Jesus gradually reveals His Divine identity, He also gradually opens the inner meaning of His Word. At this more interior level, Jesus unveils wonderful truths about the process of regeneration — truths that are essential if we are to undergo the inevitable combats of temptation and be regenerated.
As we take a closer look at this process, the first thing to be noted is that God alone sows the good seed — heavenly truths. But false ideas that spring from our own inherited evils and selfish interests immediately invade our mind. This is the “enemy” who sows tares among the wheat. We are now in “spiritual equilibrium,” a state in which we can choose between heavenly emotions and true thoughts on one side, and self-centered concerns and false thoughts on the other.
It is also interesting to note that the enemy planted tares (evil desires and false thoughts) “while they slept.” This is another reminder to remain spiritually alert and to allow no openings for the enemy to enter. It is a call to reflect on what might cause us to “fall asleep” to the presence of the Lord in our life and to increase our vigilance keeping the tares out of our garden.
The Mustard Seed: The Third Parable of Regeneration
31. Another parable set He before them, saying, “The kingdom of the heavens is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man taking, sowed in his field,
32. Which indeed is the least of all seeds; but when it is grown, it is greater than [the] herb, and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the heaven come, and nest in its branches.”
The next parable in the series speaks of the third step in the regenerative process. Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches” (13:31-32). In this parable Jesus gives a beautiful picture of how good seed proliferates, producing more and more seeds. Good ideas generate more good ideas. A little bit of truth can go a long way.
In this context, the mustard seed represents the small amount of goodness and truth in each of us as we begin the process of spiritual development. It is considered “small” because we still believe that the good things we think and do are from ourselves. Initially, God allows us to think in this way because it produces an affection for learning truth and doing good — even though it may be for self-serving purposes. We enjoy the feelings of merit associated with learning what is true and doing what is good. We believe that we are both wise and good, and we like it when people notice. This is simply how it is in the early stages of regeneration. It is a normal and natural part of the process. 2
As more good is done and more truth is acquired, the tree continues to grow taller and taller. Gradually the person is touched by higher and higher truths as well as more interior affections: “The birds of the heavens nest in its branches” (13:32). 3
All this represents the proliferation and multiplication of truth and as we continue to evolve spiritually. We are rising higher and higher on the tree that was once just a tiny mustard seed. And yet, we still cling to the belief that these higher truths and more interior affections originate within us. There is still something of self-love and personal glory that must be identified and removed. This leads to the next step in the regeneration process.
Leavened Bread: The Fourth Parable of Regeneration
33. Another parable spoke He to them: “The kingdom of the heavens is like leaven, which a woman taking hid in three satas of meal, till the whole was leavened.”
34. All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables; and without a parable spoke He not unto them,
35. That it might be fulfilled what was declared by the prophet, saying, “I will open my mouth in parables; I will pour forth things which have been hidden from the founding of the world.”
36. Then leaving the crowds, Jesus came into the house, and His disciples came to Him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.”
37. And He answering them, said unto them, “He that sows the good seed is the Son of Man;
38. And the field is the world; and the good seed, they are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the wicked;
39. And the enemy that sows them is the Devil; and the harvest is the consummation of the age; and the reapers are the angels.
40. Therefore just as the tares are collected and burnt up by the fire, so shall it be in the consummation of this age.
41. The Son of Man shall send out His angels, and they shall collect out of His kingdom all offenses, and those that do iniquity,
42. And shall cast them into the furnace of the fire, where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
43. Then shall the just give forth brightness as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He that has ears to hear, let him hear.”
Jesus now gives the fourth parable in the series, saying that “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened” (13:33). The people listening to Jesus do not understood everything that He means by this brief parable, but they probably get the general idea — that heaven is a place where things keep on getting better and better. Just as good ideas generate more good ideas, good things continue to expand like warm bread rising.
At a more interior level, the parable of the leavened bread speaks about the necessity and inevitability of temptation for all those who are willing to be regenerated. The truth that we have acquired (parables of the sower, wheat and tares, and mustard seed) must be tried in the fires of temptation in order to learn that without God we can do nothing. This is the fourth step in the process of our spiritual development.
In this context, “leaven” represents false ideas which attack the true ideas that are with us from God. As these false ideas collide with true ones, a fermentation process begins, representative of the temptation combats we now undergo. In the process of fermentation, the activated yeast causes unpleasant gases to be released. This, in turn, causes the bread to rise. Eventually the gases are driven off, leaving a beautiful, delicious loaf of leavened bread, ready to be eaten. The yeast remains in the loaf, but it gradually becomes less and less active. Meanwhile, it has served an important purpose.
Similarly, the struggles of temptation bring us to the point where we see and understand that we can do nothing that is truly good from ourselves. Self-interest, self-concern and self-will all must be driven off, like unpleasant gases, leaving behind only the desire to do good because it is good, without any need for praise, recognition or recompense. This is because we are beginning to understand that all good is from God, and nothing from ourselves. This is the purpose of temptation, to reduce us to such sanity that we honestly believe we merit nothing. 4
The ego concerns that have been driving us, especially the need to be acknowledged, recognized, esteemed or rewarded for what we do become less and less active, like yeast in risen bread.
When we come into this state, we are ready to serve others without thought of reward. This is the beginning of a new state of life. The mustard seed becoming a tree whose branches are filled with birds is an image of the proliferation and multiplication of truth in our life — a necessary and important stage in our regeneration. But in the parable of the leavened bread, as the bread rises and becomes fuller and fuller, we see an image of growing goodness as the life of charity and useful service becomes our essential focus. Like bread, which nourishes and supports life, we become life-givers to others.
Most importantly, we acknowledge that the highest thoughts we think, the inmost affections we feel, and the benevolent acts of service we perform all have their origin in God. Because we understand that God is working through us, we have no desire to seek credit for our “good works.” We are like “a risen loaf of bread” — warm, nutritious, and ready to provide nourishment for others.
Treasure Hidden in a Field: The Fifth Parable of Regeneration
44. “Again, the kingdom of the heavens is like treasure hidden in the field, which a man finding, he hides, and from the joy of it goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field.”
In this new state of life we search the Word for truths that will help us serve others more fully. As we search the Word, with love in our hearts and the uses of life in mind, we find hidden treasures: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (13:44).
It should be noted that the man in the parable purchases the whole field: “For joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”
This is what happens to us when the Word comes alive, and we see it for the rare and wonderful treasure that it is. We are no longer satisfied with a small portion of the field. Our hunger for truth increases in direct proportion to our desire to be a useful human being. As a result, we love to learn more and more; we desire a greater and greater understanding of the whole field — not just a part of it. And in so doing we keep discovering new treasures — wonderful truths that will assist us in the process of regeneration, truths that will help us love God more completely, and serve others more fully.
The Pearl of Great Price: The Sixth Parable of Regeneration
45. “Again, the kingdom of the heavens is like a man, a merchant, seeking goodly pearls;
46. Who, finding one very precious pearl, went away, [and] sold all that he had, and bought it.”
As we continue to search the Word, we find the greatest of all treasures; it is the one pearl, exceedingly precious, called “the pearl of great price. As it is written, “And when he had found one pearl of great price, he went and sold all that he had and bought it” (13:45).
The pearl of great price is a true knowledge of God, and the beginning point for a true understanding God’s Word. When the true nature of God is known, every story, every parable — even every jot in God’s Word — takes on new meaning, revealing the infinite love and tender mercy of God. This precious pearl is the revelation of God’s true nature — a Divinely Human God who cares for each and every person as a loving parent cares for a child. This knowledge is the most precious knowledge we could ever discover. Therefore, among all the treasures to be found in the Lord’s Word, this is the most valuable truth of all. That’s why it’s called the “pearl of great price.” 5
There are, of course, many pearls of wisdom in the Lord’s Word. There are many “treasures in the field.” But the pearl of great price is the greatest treasure of all because it shows us the inner beauty of every other pearl. Guided by a proper understanding of God, we learn how to “dig up” precious treasures that had lain hidden in the good ground of the literal sense of the Word; we come to see the wonders contained within every story. Just as the twelve gates to heaven are made of a single substance — pearl — a true knowledge of God is the gateway to an understanding of all other truths in the Word. As our understanding grows, we see how all the other pearls are connected, how they are perfectly arranged, and how every pearl has its own special place in God’s Word. Just as the soul orders and arranges the many organs, systems, and cells of the body, a right understanding of God’s true nature reveals the perfect order of the Word. 6
The way we see God becomes, therefore, a touchstone, not only for the way we see the Word, but also for the way we see life. The tendency to see God as angry and vengeful can too easily lead into justifying our own angry vengeful behavior. The tendency to see God as rigid and unforgiving unless we appease His wrath with sacrifices, can too easily lead to justifying our own tendencies to be demanding and unforgiving — unless we are appeased with smooth words and ego-pleasing acts. 7
However, once we have a true understanding of God’s nature, we will no longer be led astray by teachings that lead us to believe that God is angry, or wrathful, and unforgiving, demanding a sacrifice in order for us to get back into His good graces. This is the kind of wrong thinking that led the ancient Israelites into the belief that God’s wrath could only be appeased through a human sacrifice. The idea that an infinitely loving God could be angry, or even look upon His children with disfavor, is unacceptable to human reason. This is because God is goodness itself, love itself, mercy itself, and forgiveness itself. It is not in His nature to look at any of His children with anger, or even with a furrowed brow. All He asks is that we keep His commandments, believing that He gives us the power to do so. In doing this, we open the way to receive the heavenly blessings that He makes available to us at all times, and in every moment. 8
The pearl of great price, then, is a true understanding of God and of God’s love for us. It is the realization that our life is directly from the Lord who loves us with an unimaginable love. Not only is our life directly from the Lord; the Lord is our life. Without the Lord in our life — specifically the goodness and truth that we receive from Him — we would have no life at all. Although our hearts would continue to beat and our lungs would continue to breathe, we would be spiritually dead.
Therefore, knowledge about God, and more specifically, knowledge about how God has manifested His love for us through Jesus, is surely the “pearl of great price.” Once we gain this priceless knowledge, we are filled with gratitude. Like the merchant in the parable, we become perfectly willing sell all that we have; we become perfectly willing to surrender all selfish desires, and, in exchange, receive the fullness of God’s life and all the blessings it contains. 9
The Dragnet: The Seventh Parable of Regeneration
47. “Again, the kingdom of the heavens is like a seine cast into the sea, and gathering of every kind;
48. Which, when it was full, they brought [it] up to the shore, and sitting down, collected the good into vessels, and cast out the bad.
49. So shall it be in the consummation of the age; the angels shall come forth, and shall separate the wicked from the midst of the just,
50. And shall cast them into the furnace of the fire, where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
51. Jesus says to them, “Have you understood all these things?” They say unto Him, “Yes, Lord.”
52. And He says unto them, “On account of this, every scribe instructed for the kingdom of the heavens is like a man, and a householder, who puts forth out of his treasure [things] new and old.”
This brings us to the final parable in this series. Jesus says, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet that was cast into the sea and gathered some of every kind, which when it was full, they drew to shore; and they sat down and gathered the good into vessels, but threw the bad away. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from the just, and cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth” (13:47-50). 10
In this seventh and final parable, the “dragnet cast into the sea” describes what happens within each of us after death. Most of us are a mixture of good and evil, truth and falsity, noble aspirations and selfish desires. All this is described by the dragnet which is cast into the sea and brought to shore, filled with “some of every kind.” However, if our heart is in the right place, and if we sincerely desire to learn what is true and do what is right, our false beliefs and misguided desires can do us no permanent harm. God’s gentle leading does not end at death.
Instead, we continue on, fully human, but without material bodies. Depending on the decisions we made while on earth, we continue to learn, grow, and become the finest version of ourselves. Angel instructors guide and teach us as we continue to be prepared for heaven. They help us to gradually discard the false ideas and vain ambitions that we held onto (because we didn’t know any better). And they teach us new truths that we can use as vessels to receive God’s goodness as we continue to learn more about heavenly life.
Eventually, there will be a final separation of that which is good in us from that which is evil. At that point, evil and false things will be separated and removed far from our consciousness, while all that which is good and true in us will become a part of our essential nature. This is the final stage in the process of spiritual development. It is a process that begins on earth and continues throughout all eternity. While we will never be regenerated to the point where we can say, “Now, I am perfect,” we continue to move closer and closer to perfection forever. 11
As Jesus concludes this series of parables, He says to His disciples, “Have you understood all these things?” (13:47). At this point, their simple, sincere response is sufficient. They say, “Yes, Lord.” Jesus does not question their response or examine them on their understanding. Instead, He speaks to them as though they are now well-instructed scribes, saying, “Every scribe instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like a man, and a householder who puts forth out of his treasure things new and old” (13:52).
Biblical scholars mostly agree that this refers to the Hebrew scriptures (“old”) and the teachings of Jesus (“new”). But it could also refer to the letter of sacred scripture (“old”) and the spirit of sacred scripture which is continually new as the Lord reveals increasingly more interior truths. When the new and the old are seen as one, these teachings contain incredible power — power given to guide, protect, and bless us as we continue to grow and evolve forever. 12
“Where did this Man get this wisdom?”
53. And it came to pass, when Jesus had finished these parables, He passed thence.
54. And coming into His own country, He taught them in their synagogue, so that they wondered, and said, “Whence has this [Man] this wisdom, and [these] powers?
55. Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary? And His brothers, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas?
56. And His sisters, are they not all with us? whence then has this [Man] all these things?”
57. And they were offended in Him; but Jesus said unto them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and in his own house.”
58. And He did not many [works of] power there, because of their unbelief.
When Jesus gave the seven parables of regeneration, He spoke to a receptive audience. But in the next episode things change. He goes home to Nazareth to confront an audience that is far less receptive. In fact, they are doubtful, skeptical, even hostile.
The scene is a synagogue in His own country. He has entered the synagogue in an attempt to instruct them, but they are not open to His teaching. They see nothing of His divinity and cannot imagine that His wisdom and power comes from heaven. Instead,
they say, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works”? (13:54). Their question is not posed from a state of respectful awe. Rather, it is said contemptuously, for we read that they are “offended” (13:57). They still see Him as the carpenter’s son, the son of Mary, and one of five brothers.
The contrast between the receptivity of the disciples, with their simple, “Yes, Lord,” and the rejection at Nazareth is striking. In a previous episode, Jesus told the religious leaders that “a prophet greater than Jonah” is in their midst, as well as a man of wisdom “greater than Solomon” (12:42). Though Jesus is indeed a prophet greater than Jonah, He also understands that “a prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house” (13:57). And because of this “He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief” (13:58).
The story of Jesus’ rejection in Nazareth speaks to each of us about the subtle ways that we too may reject Him. In our early reading of God’s Word, the literal stories may delight us in a childlike way, but we may never go any further than regarding them as stories for children. We do not see that each and every story of the Word is a parable that can be opened to eternity, and that the Word of God is a field filled with hidden treasures. We may simply regard it as a book for children, delightful perhaps, but not Divine. This is to regard it merely as a book about a “carpenter’s son” and to see Jesus as merely the son of Mary. The tendency to explain away the holiness of the Word leaves us in a position where we can derive little inspiration from its teachings or from Jesus’ message. And so, God can do no mighty works in us because of our unbelief. 13