Discovering depth in the soil
Often when I read about Jesus talking about sheep or telling a parable whose setting is a vineyard, I think, What a great metaphor. What a thought-provoking story! And they are great metaphors and stories, but they’re also so much more!
Israel survived on a subsistence economy. For the most part, the farmers grew enough to live on year by year. The ground, the harvest determined their lives. Archaeologists have discovered small plots of land where they grew vines and olives and figs not just to eat but to use as a commodity to trade. Interestingly, vineyards complemented rather than competed with the other crops they were growing.
When Jesus drew on these earthy illustrations it wasn’t just a nice word picture, he was diving into their economic forms of survival. To put it into modern terms, he was talking about their pay checks, their bank accounts, their 401Ks, and their children’s college funds in order to illustrate eternal truths and reveal who God was in the midst of it all. His choice of subject matter not only connected with the people, it gripped their hearts because it was the foundation for their survival.