Parables in Mark-March 7, 2012
Jesus sometimes used parables to defeat charges leveled against him. Usually the parable illustrates the absurdity of the view being expressed. It is the unusual element in each parable that challenges the readers to imagine the new reality of the kingdom of God.
Any figurative or non-literal use of language depends on the ability of readers to recognize the fact that the image points to a reality that is not a literal statement of facts. Jesus’ parables seem to always combine elements of clarity and hiddenness.
The parables are often addressed to the accusers or the crown or “them or they” and not so much to the disciples whom Jesus explains to them in private. There is then the appearance that the disciples are given the secret of the kingdom, which the crowds did not understand.
Since many times the disciples did not understand either at what point are they considered insiders? Is this initial parable an allegory to the whole collection of parables and the continuing process of maturing in discipleship?
Mark 4:1-20-Parable of the Sower and the Parable Explained
This parable encouraged believers who had already accepted the word to nourish its growth in their lives, and it explained why some people failed to respond or become mature Christians. What evidence do we see in our world today of the application of this parable?
The emphasis lies on the fate of the seed and not so much on the sower. The sower is Jesus and the seed is his message or preaching. Here in the parable are represented different responses to the message and mission of Christ.
There are different examples of soil and reasons for the seed not producing fruit. Then there is a three-fold example of a harvest which would have been considered big for that time. The great harvest implies the blessing of the kingdom of God.
There are many potential dangers awaiting the seed sown. The contrast of the destroyed seed seems to highlight the blessing of God’s kingdom.
This parable is also at the beginning of a larger section of parables and seems to have additional meaning for those seeking to understand the rest of the parables. Jesus’ preaching is being acted upon by outside forces, such as charges against Jesus, and just the comfort and worldliness of the day.
Distinguishing insiders from outsiders comes back to this idea of a messianic secret. The idea of secret in apocalyptic literature makes more reference to the end times, and Paul uses the term mysterion often in reference to salvation.
In plain words, if you don’t get it you won’t get it. Readers also should not be more concerned about rejection or failure than they would about the seed lost during sowing.
Seeing the reactions toward the end of the passage seems to indicate that even persons who appear to accept Jesus’ teaching may not fully bear fruit. Some will quickly lose their initial enthusiasm, whereas others will be unable to face the coming persecutions. The love of riches and worldly cares causes the rich man to reject Jesus’ offer of discipleship.
The self-help culture that sells people guaranteed quick fixes for all the difficulties of life often creates the expectation that faith should be the same way-a comforting solution to the problems and pain of life. The interpretation given the parable of the sower reminds us that true discipleship does not provide such solutions. Some will meet with hostility from others because of their faith. Others will choose the ever-present concerns from comfort and security instead of sacrifice and discomfort. They may not even realize that their lives have been taken over by the demands of success. Religion becomes a holiday accessory.
Faced with the difficulties of maintaining a vibrant faith community in today’s world, many begin to wonder whether the effort is worth it. This parable provides encouragement for those darker moments, too. The word of the gospel is not too weak for the job. Loss has been a part of the process from the beginning. Despite the vigorous opposition to the word, it still yields a rich harvest. Despite the dramatic evidence of Jesus’ relationship to the divine, even he was not able to elicit an enduring faith from all who heard his message.
Some information is private thoughts of Greg and additional information from New Interpreters Bible Commentary, vol. 8, 1995 Abingdon Press