Blogging Towards Sunday, November 27th
Today’s passage of Mark continues the teaching of Jesus in parables. Undoubtedly, since Mark is a good writer, it is directly connected to the parable of the Sower and the Seed (Mark 4:1-20). In that parable we learn of God’s abundant and amazing grace similar to seeds scattered on diverse and different types of soil. God gives the gift of faith and then grows it as we respond. We’re not just passive observers, but also actively involved.
lamps | measures | seeds oh my!
The first parable of the lamp and the bushel remind me of my childhood and the song we often sang in Sunday School, “hide it under a bushel? No! I’m gonna let it shine!” But that’s from Matthew 5. It’s not what Jesus is talking about here. What is Jesus talking about with the hidden and made manifest? A light is meant to illuminate the room. Why then do we need ears to hear? Isn’t it obvious? Not to me!
Throughout the First Testament light is associated with word. In Greek the two world ressemble each other logos (word) and lychos (light). Think of Psalm 119:10 “your word is a light unto my feet and a lamp unto my path.” It seems thus that the lamp, or light, would be a fitting way to continue the development of the falling of the seed of the word on the various kinds of soil. Jesus repeats twice an invitation to pay attention, to listen, to “get it”. (verses 23 and 24). But what is it that we are supposed to hear?
The second parable is about the measure, a comment that seems to talk a bit about karma. As you give to others, you’ll receive. Jesus is talking not about cooking measurements, but the measure used for determining how much you received when you purchased something, for example a pound (or their equivalent then) of flour. If you skimped on your customers, you’d have bad karma in the sense that you’d probably have few faithful customers since you were a cheat.
Mark is writing about something being hidden to be revealed, and Jesus seems to be often speaking and teaching in a way that’s not obvious for those that hear. Is he meaning to be secretive or sneaky? Or is he just a bad teacher? Joel Marcus (a New Testament scholar whom I’m using for my studies). Writes this:
God’s word uttered by Jesus, is misunderstood by his opponents – misunderstood in the existential sense of being rejected, not allowed to penetrate, or emptied of its force. This rejection of the word leads inexorably to Jesus’ death, a result that, from the divine perspective is necessary (8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34), he is killed by those who cannot grasp his identity and who look and look but never see, hear and hear but never understand. But in this divinely willed death, which is caused by the spiritual blindness and deafness of human beings, a new age of revelation begins; after Good Friday and Easter Sunday Jesus’ identity as Messiah and Son of God, which was hidden from all during his early lifetime, becomes the open proclamation of the Markan church community. The obscurity of the word thus ultimately serves the purpose of its revelation by leading to Jesus’ revelators death; what was hidden was hidden only in order that it might come into the light.
Today’s passage includes the telling of the parable in verses 1-9, followed by an explanation of the parable by Jesus to the Twelve in verse 10-20. Some scholars argue that verse 10-20 are Mark’s footnotes, his interpretation of the parable as he seeks to explain it to his audience of the first Century, early Christians facing religious persecution in the time of Roman Emperor Nero.
two more seeds parables (4:26-34)
The first parable lifts up the mystery of life. The seed is planted and then grows on its own. It knows what it’s intended to do, what it’s purpose is: to grow and give life. The sower/farmer plants it an then it does its work on its own. The focus seems to be on the interim stage of growth between the sowing and the harvesting. It’s like the kingdom of God which is mysteriously present and growing in the world even while we sleep or don’t see it.
The second parable is about the final stage of fruit-bearing or harvest. This motif of plants and seeds echoes some developed in the First Testament (Ezekiel 17:23 and 31:6, Daniel 4:18, 21).The mustard seed, supposedly the smallest of all seeds, becomes a giant tree (or bush). It’s less about size (which is important in our Western Culture of Consumerism and Macho-men) than it is about the transformation. The mustard seed is subversive, fooling you. It seems small and unimportant, and yet it’s paramount. Much like the kingdom of God, which seems negligent in terms of importance, or seemingly impotent in the face of life’s suffering and challenges. And yet…..
The chapter ends (verses 33-34) with a conclusion. Jesus keeps teaching this same thing, always in parables. Why? Why does he explain to some and not others? Didn’t Jesus come to tell and show everyone of God’s love? Why would he do so in a hard-to-understand way? How do we struggle today to articulate God’s love, what it means to follow Jesus, and how we are called to live as a community of radical Jesus followers in the 21st century?
Next week: Mark 4:35-41.