The Sower

“The Sower” W. Zeitler

Fantasia J. Pachelbel (1653–1706)

The Gospel appointed for this Sunday is the Parable of the Sower (found in Matthew 13, Mark 4 and Luke 8): the sower casts his seeds on the field. Some lands on the path where the birds eat it. Some lands on rocky ground, it grows quickly but without root, is scorched by the sun and withers. Some lands among thorns and is choked. And some lands on good soil where it brings forth grain, “some a hundred-fold, some sixty, and some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”

First of all, I note that there are three ‘bad seed’ types: on the path, on the rocky ground, and in the thorns. And there are three ‘good seed’ outcomes: a hundred-fold, sixty, and thirty. (Ah, numerical structure here!) I’ve always found the specific numbers 100, 60 and 30 to be curious. (Matthew & Mark have all three numbers, Luke only has 100). Generally these numbers are dismissed as generic ‘big, medium and small’ yields, but as I’ve discussed before, the Bible is full of numerical symbolism. I haven’t exactly made an exhaustive search for an interpretation of these numbers, but in my reading travels I have yet to find a sane explanation. (A Google search will yield plenty of very curious ones!)

So if I may, I thought I’d cast my own two-cents onto the field:

You’ll recall from your high-school algebra (or not!) that the greatest common factor of these numbers is 10: that is, 100, 60, 30 = 10 times 10, 6 times 10, and 3 times 10. Now ’10’ was a sacred number for the Pythagoreans (c.5th century B.C.E.). The Pythagoreans preferred a rather geometric approach to math, and a major symbol for them was the tetractys (also known as the ‘mystic tetrad’):

* *
* * *
* * * *

The number of dots in the first row is 1, in the second 2, and so on, and 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 = 10. The Pythagoreans associated mystical meanings with numbers, including 1 through 4, and the fact that they add up to 10 was a big deal for them, as you can see from this Pythagorean prayer: “Bless us, Divine Number, thou who generated gods and men! O holy, holy Tetractys, thou that containest the root and source of the eternally flowing creation! For the Divine Number begins with the profound, pure unity until it comes to the holy four; then it begets the mother of all, the all-comprising, all-bounding, the first-born, the never-swerving, the never-tiring holy ten, the keyholder of all”.

(I note in passing that the word “LOGOS” which we famously find in John 1:1 “In the beginning was the LOGOS” was also a Greek mathematical term. I’m not saying that John — or Jesus — was a Pythagorean, just that associating God and Number was an idea very much in the air in those days. And is that idea so distant from the axiom of modern Science that Number and Math govern the Universe?)

Space does not permit me to do more than observe that 6 is the number of Humanity and 3 is the number of the Divine (e.g., the Trinity). So if my silly musings have any validity at all, they would suggest that “a hundred-fold, some sixty, and some thirty” is suggesting a perfectly perfect yield, a perfect human yield, and a perfect divine yield.

In the Gospel account, after Jesus presents the parable the disciples ask Him to explain it, and it’s easy for us to think “Why did they need an explanation? Isn’t it rather obvious?” Hmm, maybe it’s all not so obvious after all. (Naturally the prelude has a numerical structure suggested by this parable.)