(In advance, I’m going to warn you that today’s story is a bit long. After all, we have a whole day on the beach to look at with Jesus.)
Yesterday we looked at Jesus’ story of the sower and the seed from the perspective of the farmer. We went through the planting and growing season with him to get a closer look at the man and his crop. Today we are going to look at the crowd Jesus was teaching this parable to. Who was in the crowd? What were they doing as Jesus taught them? Why were they each there? What happened after they heard the story?
We find Jesus on the seashore. He has just left a home where He was teaching a group there. One of the last topics He had addressed there was who His true family was. He said it was those who did His Father’s will. We don’t know how long Jesus was relatively alone on the seashore but we are told that a large crowd came to Him there. It was so big that He got in a boat and set out on the water a little ways in order to be able to address them all. I’m assuming that the area He was in was a harbor with natural rock formations on either side. This would make a great amphitheater and His voice would be able to be heard clearly by all those in attendance.
I don’t think this is the only parable Jesus shared that day because Matthew says that Jesus “told them many thing in parables” (verse 3). Also it would have been a very short teaching if this was all He had said. I have noticed that Jesus’ encounters and teachings don’t tend to be short, as He has a lot to say and a short time to do it in. So let’s assume that Jesus’ teaching today took at least a couple of hours and probably even had time after His teaching where He ministered to the sick among the crowd. He might even have healed a few people in the early part of the crowd development. So what did that crowd look like?
The people in the crowd probably came from several different walks in life. We have the fisherman who was on the seashore tending to his nets, his catch, and his boat when Jesus showed up. We have people who followed Him from the house where He had just been teaching. This group from the house most certainly included His disciples. We have those who were unable to attend the home meeting because of it either being “sold out” or they were unable to get away from work while it was going on. We have people who have been trying to get close enough to Jesus to have a personal word with Him but haven’t been able to get through the crowd yet. We have those seeking healing from Him. We have those who are curious about His message. We have those who just like to be up on the latest fads or happenings around them. We have those who truly want to hear more of what He is teaching. We have those who just want to be seen by others in attendance. And, of course, we have some of the religious leaders whose sole intent is to disrupt anything Jesus is involved in.
Our day starts out like any other here at the harbor. Fisherman arrive in the wee hours of the morning to begin the day’s work of checking nets, moving into their favorite fishing coves, harvesting what they can, returning with their haul, separating their catch into “salable” and “bait for next time”, mending any new tears in their nets, and opening their seaside stand for business. Fish is always best when fresh.
Jesus arrives early in the morning, an hour or so before dawn, to finds a quiet and secluded spot to pray. He was up very late last night ministering to everyone who came to the house yesterday. The disciples finally had to usher the last few people out so Jesus could get some sleep. It is amazing how many people want to see Him. One of the women traveling with Jesus approaches Him just before dawn. She has brought Him some bread and figs for breakfast. She knows He hasn’t had a lot of opportunities to eat lately because of the demands on His time from the people. She is trying to minister to His needs as He ministers to everyone else. Jesus thanks her for her kindness. He quietly eats His meal while watching the sun rise over the water. The disciples begin joining Jesus shortly after first light.
One of the fishermen recognizes Peter and comes over to see how things are going. Several people see Peter and Andrew leaving the house. This group camped out last night in hopes of seeing Jesus. They couldn’t get in last night but were hoping to see Him in the morning. They quickly get up and follow them to the seashore. The rest of Jesus’ disciples join Him as soon as they finish their breakfast. Another fisherman noticed Jesus and His small gathering. He runs to tell his friend, whom he has heard has a daughter with a crippled hand. This would be the perfect opportunity to get her close to Jesus. Not too many people are here right now. Others are arriving in the area to do their morning marketing. When they notice the small crowd beginning to gather, a couple of the marketers run back to tell others that Jesus is down by the seashore.
By the time the sun has fully risen in the sky there are about 50 or so people surrounding Jesus. He is patient with all of them as they ask Him questions or ask Him to heal them of their illnesses. While Jesus is talking with this small group word is spreading in town. One of the Pharisees hears about it and thinks to himself, “Here we go again. I better go report this to the temple.” The leader from the city market decides to go have a look too. Maybe he can drum up some business while he is down there with this crowd. Surely they will need something to eat or drink while they listen.
By mid-morning there are about 150 people gathered around Jesus by the seaside. Jesus decides it is time to take a step away from the one on one approach and address the crowd as a whole. He asks Peter’s friend to lend Him a hand. He climbs aboard the boat with Peter, Andrew and John. There really isn’t room for the rest of the disciples in the boat, and since He isn’t going but a few yards off shore, He asks the rest of the disciples to make sure none of the people try and swim out to Him.
Jesus sits down and starts teaching. As Jesus begins His message, the people settle in to receive what He has to say. Groups begin to naturally form within the larger group. Pockets of activity continue on the fringes. Today Jesus is teaching by using stories. He is a really good storyteller and He has a way of making you feel like you could be living the stories yourself.
The fishermen are trying to be respectful, but they have a business to run, so they will continue to sell to any customers who come seeking their goods. The fishermen listen with half an ear as customers arrive to purchase their goods. They are not really paying attention to what is being said.
Many of the people sit down near the front and listen intently to what Jesus is saying. This group is hanging on every word Jesus says. The stories He is telling seem to speak directly to their hearts. What He says makes sense.
Off to one side, mothers with small children have gathered in an area where there is a small pile of wood for the children to play on. The children are entertained while the mothers keep watch and listen at the same time. They are used to this sort of distraction, so they don’t have too much trouble keeping up with what Jesus is talking about. Besides that, a couple of mothers volunteer to “ride herd” over the group, freeing the others mothers up to pay closer attention to what Jesus is teaching.
Our ever present Pharisee group is standing off to the side, with arms crossed and scowls in place. They are waiting for Jesus to say something they can object to. So far He seems to be content with just telling stories. But if the need arises, they will be ready to jump in and turn the crowd back around to their way of thinking.
Our merchant from the village market is listening too, but he is also taking a head count. He is wondering how many people brought their own food with them and how many people he could talk into buying what he has stashed away nearby. Jesus’ stories are interesting, so he is caught up in the teaching for a bit.
Another group waits, maybe not as patiently as the rest. This group is made up of those in need of some miracle from Jesus. His teachings are awesome, but they have come for a specific purpose. They need His help personally. They will wait however long it takes to have that personal audience with Jesus. They are desperate for His touch.
The day marches on and Jesus continues to teach from the boat. It is well past noon now. The fishermen have sold out and joined the group of listeners. Our town merchant has been making the rounds of anyone he thought might be interested in purchasing a snack while they listen. The children have been respectful and played relatively quietly on the pile of wood, but they are becoming restless and want to go off and explore somewhere else. Those overseeing the group of children has changed twice, to give each mother a chance to listen to Jesus. The Pharisees have become bored with the storytelling and wish Jesus would just get to the point. If this is all He is going to do, then they have been wasting their time this morning. A few from the group in the front have gotten up to stretch their legs. The group made up of those who are seeking healing continue to wait. A couple of them have thought about trying to swim out to Him but that would just be too pushy. Besides, they might not make it past His disciples.
As Jesus concludes His stories He says, “he who has ears, let him hear” (verse 9). Jesus sits quietly in the boat now. Several minutes go by and Jesus doesn’t say anything more. He leans back against the mast and looks like He is going to take a nap. He certainly has earned a rest after speaking to the crowd for the past several hours.
The Pharisee leader watches Jesus as He settles into His resting position. Then he thinks to himself, “Is that it? What a waste of a day. Nothing but a bunch of stories. Anything even remotely spiritual would have sailed right over the tops of this group’s heads anyway. We probably shouldn’t even have bothered worrying about this group. Just a lot of common fishermen and farmers anyway. ” He tells the rest of his group that they are leaving.
The merchant from town is pleased with his earnings. He sold out of everything he brought. “I’ll have to come to one of Jesus’ rallies again. Not a bad day’s work. I have to admit though, that some of His stories really made me think. I wonder what He meant by His closing remarks?”
The mothers gather their children and join up with their husbands who had been sitting a little closer in the crowd. Jesus’ stories even had some of the children sitting still to listen. There will be a lot to talk about on the way home.
The majority of those seated in front have gone away with their families. A few have remained to ask questions. Most of the group waiting for a personal healing has also stayed behind. This group is desperate and will wait, no matter how long it takes. These stragglers approach Jesus’ disciples. Jesus had given His disciples authority to heal the sick, so they minister to all of those who were waiting and who are willing. A couple of those who were healed wonder why they didn’t just approach the disciples in the first place. They could have been about their business much earlier if they had thought of approaching a disciple instead.
Jesus finally tells our boat captain to bring them back in. Once on shore, He answers all the questions and ministers to any of the remaining needs. This has been a long day for Jesus too, but He is thinking about what kind of harvest is going to come from this day’s scattering of seed as He and His disciples leave the shore. He is looking forward to seeing what His disciples thought of the stories. He can’t wait to explain them to them personally.
Now that we have spent the day on the shore with Jesus, we are going to take a break. Jesus did, so I guess we can too. We need time to look at our attendees and see what category of “ground” they fall into. Since it took so long to point out all the people, I am going to wait until Jesus explains this parable to His disciples before sharing my ideas of where the seed fell and the condition of the ground for each group. We can compare notes when I finally reveal my ideas.
Father God, thank You for letting us join the crowd on the seashore today. I love looking around and seeing what is going on when Jesus is teaching. Nothing He did was ever done in isolation and knowing how it impacted those around Him always intrigues me. Jesus, thank You for the stories. I wish I could have heard all of them You shared that day, but will be satisfied with this one for now. I pray I do justice to Your word by looking at everything else going on too. I never want to make Your message second in importance, but I feel I can learn much by placing myself in the story through my imagination. Keep me on track while I look around. I don’t want to ever be disrespectful to You or Your experiences. Help me always see what You want me to notice. Thank You again for the day by the seaside.