[A Review of the December 15, 2014 Watchtower article on page 11]
“He opened up their minds fully to grasp the meaning of the Scriptures.”— Luke 24:45
In this continuation of last week’s study, we explore the meaning of three more parables:
- The sower who sleeps
- The dragnet
- The prodigal son
The opening paragraphs of the study show how Jesus appeared to his disciples following his resurrection and opened up their minds to fully grasp the meaning of all that had occurred. Of course, we do not have Jesus to speak with us directly anymore. However, his words are available to us in the Bible. In addition, he has sent a helper in his absence to open up our minds to all the truth in God’s word.
““I have spoken these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the helper, the holy spirit, which the Father will send in my name, that one will teach you all things and bring back to your minds all the things I told you.” (Joh 14:25, 26 NWT)
You will notice that he said nothing about the holy spirit’s operation being confined to a tiny group of men such as the 12 apostles. There is nothing in Scripture to support the idea that the holy spirit trickles down from an elite ruling body who are alone in possession of truth. In fact, when the Christian writers refer to the spirit, they represent it as a possession of all, just as it was from the beginning at Pentecost of 33 C.E.
With that truth in mind, let us examine the “interpretation” given to these three remaining parables in our two-week study.
A Word of Caution
I have put “interpretation” in quotes above, because the word is often misapplied due to its frequent abuse by Bible teachers of all denominations. As truth seekers, we should be interested only in the use to which Joseph put it.
“At this they said to him: “We each had a dream, but there is no interpreter with us.” Joseph said to them: “Do not interpretations belong to God? Relate it to me, please.”” (Ge 40:8)
Joseph did not “figure out” what the King’s dream meant, he knew because God revealed it to him. So we should not think what we are about to read are interpretations – revelations from God – even if some would have us believe that. Perhaps a more accurate term for what follows would be theoretical interpretation. We know there is a truth in each of these parables. The publishers of the article are advancing theories on what the interpretation might be. A good theory explains all the known facts and is internally consistent. Otherwise, it is rejected.
Let us see how we bear up under that time-honored criteria.
The Sower Who Sleeps
“What is the meaning of Jesus’ illustration about the sower who sleeps? The man in the illustration represents individual Kingdom proclaimers.” – Par. 4
A theory often starts out with an assertion. Fair enough. Does this one fit the facts?
While the application to which the writer puts this parable may seem beneficial to the reader, especially those who seem to be showing little productivity for all their hard work in the field ministry, it doesn’t fit all the facts of the parable. The writer makes no attempt to explain how verse 29 fits with his explanation.
“But as soon as the crop permits it, he thrusts in the sickle, because the harvest time has come.” (Mark 4:29)
“Individual Kingdom proclaimers” are never spoken of in the Bible as being reapers. Workers, yes. Workers in God’s field under cultivation. (1 Co 3:9) We plant; we water; God makes it grow; but it is the angels that do the reaping. (1 Co 3:6; Mt 13:39; Re 14:15)
“Jesus likened the preaching of the Kingdom message to all mankind to the lowering of a large dragnet into the sea. Just as such a net indiscriminately catches large numbers of “fish of every kind,” our preaching work attracts millions of people of all kinds.” – Par. 9
It is a testament to the esteem with which we view ourselves as Jehovah’s Witnesses that this statement can be made before millions with nary a cry of protest. For it to be true, we must accept that Jesus spoke these words with the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses in mind. He intended his words to lie fallow for almost 2000 years until we came along to fulfill them. The work of countless Christians throughout the centuries is of no consequence in the casting of this dragnet. Only now, in the last hundred years or so, has the dragnet been let down by us, and us alone, to attract millions of all kinds to the kingdom.
Again, for any theory to hold water, it must fit all the facts. The parable speaks of the angels doing the separating work. It speaks of the wicked being thrown away, cast in the fiery furnace. It speaks of these ones gnashing their teeth and weeping in that place. All of this corresponds tightly to key elements of the parable of the wheat and the weeds found at Matthew 13:24-30,36-43. That parable has a fulfillment during the end of the system of things, like this one. Yet here we say assertively in paragraph 10 that “the symbolic separating of fish does not refer to the final judgment during the great tribulation.”
Look again at the facets of this dragnet parable. 1) All the fish are brought in at once. 2) The undesirable do not leave of their own accord; they do not wander off, but are thrown away by those who harvest the catch. 3) The angels harvest the catch. 4) The angels separate the fish into two groups. 5) This happens at the “conclusion of the system of things”; or as other Bibles put it more literally, “the end of the age”. 6) The fish that are cast off are wicked. 7) The wicked are thrown into the fiery furnace. 8) The wicked weep and gnash their teeth.
With all that in mind consider how we apply the fulfillment of this parable:
“The symbolic separating of fish does not refer to the final judgment during the great tribulation. Rather, it highlights what would happen during the last days of this wicked system. Jesus showed that not all those attracted to the truth will take a stand for Jehovah. Many have associated with us at our meetings. Others have been willing to study the Bible with us but are not willing to make a commitment. (1 Ki. 18:21) Still others are no longer associating with the Christian congregation. Some youths have been raised by Christian parents and yet have not developed a love for Jehovah’s standards.” – Par. 10
How exactly are the angels involved in this? Is there any evidence of angelic involvement? Are we to honestly believe that the last hundred years constitutes the conclusion of the system of things? How are those who “are not willing to make a commitment” and those who are “no longer associating” thrown away by the angels into the fiery furnace? Do we see evidence that the youths of Christian parents who “have not developed a love for Jehovah’s standards” are weeping and gnashing their teeth?
It is difficult for any theory to fit all the facts, but one would expect it to fit most of them in a logical manner so as to have some credibility, some possibility of being correct.
Paragraph 12 adds a new element to the story, one not found in the parable.
“Does this mean that those who have left the truth will never be allowed to return to the congregation? Or if someone fails to dedicate his life to Jehovah, will he be forever classified as someone “unsuitable”? No. There is still a window of opportunity for such ones before the outbreak of the great tribulation.” – Par. 12
We have just stated categorically that the “separating of the fish does not refer to the final judgment during the great tribulation.” The parable states that the fish are thrown away into the fiery furnace by angels. Therefore this must happen, as we just stated, “during the last days of this wicked system”. This has been happening for at least 100 years by our reckoning. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people have come into the dragnet cast by Jehovah’s Witnesses in the past 100 years and have died of natural causes, thus ending up either in the containers or in the fiery furnace, gnashing their teeth and weeping.
Yet here, we are going back on that. It now appears that some of the fish that are thrown away can wander back into the net. It also appears that the judgment before “the outbreak of the great tribulation” is involved, even though we’ve just denied this.
Few human theories fit all the facts, but to maintain a level of credibility and acceptance, they must be internally consistent. A theory that contradicts its own internal reasoning only serves to paint the theorist as a fool.
The Prodigal Son
The parable of the prodigal son provides a heartwarming picture of the extent of mercy and forgiveness exemplified in our heavenly father, Jehovah. One son leaves home and squanders his inheritance by gambling, getting drunk, and cavorting with prostitutes. Only when he has hit rock bottom does he realize what he’s done. Upon returning, his father, represented by Jehovah, sees him a long way off and runs to embrace him, forgiving him even before the young man has expressed himself. He does this with no concern whatsoever for how his elder son, the faithful one, might feel about it. He then dresses his repentant son in fine robes, puts on a grand feast and invites everyone from far and wide; musicians play, there is the noise of celebration. However the elder son is offended by the father’s display of forgiveness and refuses to partake. Apparently, he feels that the younger son should be punished; made to suffer for his sins. For him, forgiveness only comes at a price, and payment must be exacted from the sinner.
Many of the words in paragraphs 13 through 16 give the impression that we as Jehovah’s Witnesses are fully compliant with Christ’s direction, imitating the mercy and forgiveness of our God as expressed in this parable. However, men are not judged by their words but by their deeds. What do our deeds, our fruits, reveal about us? (Mt 7:15-20)
There is a video on JW.org called The Prodigal Returns. While the character depicted in the video doesn’t sink to the same low depths of debauchery that the son in Jesus’ parable reaches, he does commit sins that could get him disfellowshipped. Upon returning home to his parents, repentant and asking for help, they hold off expressing full forgiveness. They must await the decision of the local body of elders. There is a scene in which his parents sit tensely with worried expressions awaiting the outcome of that judicial hearing, knowing full well that he may be disfellowshipped and that they would therefore have to deny him the help that he desperately needs. Were that the outcome—and it often is in the real world when similar cases have come before the congregation—the repentant one’s only hope then would be to patiently and submissively go to meetings regularly, not missing any, and wait out a period of time which ranges on average from 6 to 12 months before he could be forgiven and welcomed back into the loving embrace of the congregation. If he were able to do that in his weakened spiritual state, the congregation would welcome him back cautiously. They would not applaud the announcement for fear of offending others. Unlike the father of the parable, there would be no celebration, as that would be viewed as unseemly. (See Should We Applaud a Reinstatement?)
Matters are even worse for someone returning who has already been disfellowshipped. Unlike the prodigal son of Jesus’ parable, he cannot be welcomed back instantly but must go through a period of trial in which he (or she) is expected to faithfully attend all meetings while being ignored and not spoken to by anyone in the congregation. He must come at the last minute and sit in the back and leave immediately after the meeting ends. His endurance under this test is seen as evidence of true repentance. Only then can the elders decide to permit him to return to the congregation. Still, they will impose restrictions on him for a period of time. Again, if friends and family were to make a big thing of his return, holding a party, inviting in a band to play music, enjoying dancing and celebration – in short, everything the prodigal son’s father did in the parable – they would be strongly counseled.
This is the reality that any Jehovah’s Witness can attest to. As you look at it, guided by the Holy Spirit that is there to take you to all the truth, which character in the parable do we as Jehovah’s Witnesses most closely emulate?
There is one more element we should consider before closing. The older son was rebuked and counseled by his loving father for his incorrect attitude toward his repentant younger brother. However, there is no mention in the parable as to how that older brother responded.
If we have failed to show mercy when it is called for, then on judgment day we will be judged without mercy.
“For the one who does not practice mercy will have his judgment without mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (Jas 2:13)