Mark 4:14–32comment (0)
December 24, 2009
By Cecil Taylor
Related Scripture: Mark 4:14–32
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Dean, School of Christian Studies, University of Mobile
IS GOD STILL WORKING IN THE WORLD?
Parable of the Seed and the Soils (14–20)
According to Jesus’ interpretation of the parable, the seed is the gospel, i.e., the “good news,” of the Kingdom that goes out into the world. Whether that message takes root and bears fruit depends on how someone hears it. Like hard ground, some pay it no mind at all. Like rocky soil, others are attracted to the Kingdom until they see it may cost them something. Like thorn-infested ground, still others let life’s worries, the desire for wealth and the craving for other things stifle the power of the message. But like good soil, some accept the gospel, hold to it and produce fruit. This parable should leave hearers asking, “What kind of soil am I?” Those represented by the first soil are clearly lost, while those represented by the fourth soil are clearly saved. Debate centers on the second and third soils, i.e., those who seem to have faith for only a time and those in whom the seed never produces what it should. Regardless of the line of interpretation, the situation is tragic. Despite its ambiguity, the parable offers those people no comfort. Despite notable failures, a great harvest will result. Average yield is sevenfold to tenfold. Thirtyfold is excellent; sixtyfold extraordinary; one hundredfold supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. The work may have its gains and losses, but in the end, the word of the Kingdom will produce a bumper crop beyond all expectations.
Sayings Related to Parables (21–25)
As lamps are meant not to be hidden but to give light, so parables that once concealed will one day reveal. The rule is: Temporarily concealed but ultimately revealed. The saying about the measure seems to imply that the amount of attention given to Jesus’ teaching determines how much a person profits from it.
The third saying also has to do with hearing. He who hears the word and lets it work in his heart will receive more spiritual light. He who fails to take what is offered will lose spiritual insight altogether.
Parable of the Growing Seed (26–29)
Only Mark records this parable. In it, the farmer sows seed and then sleeps and rises many times while the seed sprouts and grows “automatically” (Greek automate, “of itself”). In the New Testament, sowing and reaping consistently illustrate the supernatural work of God (e.g., 1 Cor. 15:35–49; 2 Cor. 9:6). Having sown, with no further thought or action, the farmer leaves it to the earth — by metonymy, i.e., substituting one word for another with which it is closely associated, “earth” here means “God” — to produce the harvest. So Jesus introduced the kingdom of God, which would, by God’s work, go on inevitably until it reached its consummation in the harvest, without any reliance on human effort.
All talk of “bringing in the Kingdom” is foolishness. Zealots thought to bring it in by the edge of the sword. Rabbis said it would come if all Israel kept the Law perfectly for one day. But the Kingdom is God’s deed.
Parable of the Mustard Seed (30–32)
The mustard seed was the “smallest of all seeds” in common use in Palestine. This tiny seed, proverbial for its smallness, when full-grown becomes a veritable tree 8 to 12 feet tall that offers shelter for birds.
The parable contrasts the presently veiled kingdom of God that came when Jesus arrived with its future glory at His return. Jews expected the kingdom of God to arrive in a blaze of glory with stunning military victories over Gentile powers. But the Kingdom began with only a Jewish carpenter from a backwater town in Galilee. But the Kingdom was really present in the person and ministry of Jesus, no matter how insignificant it looked to many. From that unpromising beginning, however, the kingdom of God would grow and grow and become like a great tree offering shelter.
Birds are not necessarily emblems of evil (as in the earlier parable). That some birds roost in the mustard bush may indicate only the great size of the plant. Or Jesus may have had in mind the outcasts and sinners — and later, even the Gentiles — to whom He offered the blessings of the Kingdom.