Today we learn the purpose of parables in Mark 4:10-20.
I love how different even the smallest perceptions are between those who wrote the bible and modern day readers. “When he was alone, those around him with the twelve…” I don’t know about you all, but if I’m with 12+ individuals, I am in no way alone. With the world as small as it was back then, and with family units often staying near each other their entire lives unless they were traveling traders, perhaps less than 100 people is considered “alone”.
So I have to ask, if “the secret of the kingdom of God has been given to…” the disciples, why aren’t they more forthcoming about those secrets? Do you think that they chose not to reveal them assuming that whoever might read these stories would be outside and so must be taught via parables?
However, if those outside look and do not see, hear but do not understand, the reference to outsiders seems to be those who do not wish to repent, thus the final line, “so they may not repent and be forgiven.” My question is then, why wouldn’t Jesus want those individuals outside to repent and be forgiven?
Interestingly, though, is that this is once again a quote from Isaiah 6, seemingly Mark’s favorite OT book to quote from, so the reference itself may not be the literal intention of Jesus. The prophecy from Isaiah appears to once again be the result of Jewish retribution theology as I discussed in The Human Bible v.2. Israel had been conquered many times and had been scattered in the diaspora, their understanding was that these actions could only have occurred if the Jewish people had not listened to the righteous and repented of their sins. What insight does this give us to Jesus’ intentions?
Not much, because Jesus seems to use it out of context here to mean that he is trying to be covert. Perhaps to postpone his martyrdom until the appointed time?
On to the meaning of the previously discussed parable of the sower. The sower is sowing the word. By the word, we assume the gospel, but we don’t actually know at this point what the word is. Perhaps simply that Jesus is the messiah and is teaching the words of God?
It is interesting to note that while Satan is used here, it is not used in Matthew and Luke, but rather the evil one and the devil. Apparently, they didn’t all get the same meaning from this explanation, or as the translators of the NET claim, it’s a synoptic literary habit to use synonyms in shared stories across the three. Remember though, that is it extremely likely that Mark is the source material for Matt and Luke, so in my opinion, his quotes can be best trusted. In this case then, the satan which steals it away would be those who present arguments and obstacles to receiving the message of love. Or the satan could be life events, trauma, financial trouble, insecurity, divorce, you name it. I think the greatest satan to the message of love is tragedy and suffering. Many people have a lot of trouble reconciling the two.
For those on rocky ground, you know these people. They hear the truth, but the instant it gets challenged or societal pressures tell them that it’s not okay, they recant their positions. At the time, this good news was quite revolutionary and deadly so there would have been a lot of doubt and hesitation about following it.
For those among the thorns, I think this can be so many people, including myself. We know that the words of Jesus tell us to create financial equality to bring the kingdom, but when we think about doing that it directly interferes with our basic instinct for security. Not only that, but it is such a large issue that we don’t even know how to begin the process. You can’t trust large corporations not to simply keep your money, but you don’t feel it’s helpful to just hand money to a single stranger either. Too bad Jesus didn’t set up a 12 step program for financial equality on some rocks somewhere. (Not sarcasm, seriously that would have been nice.)
Ah, the good soil, the one we all desire to be, but have no idea how to achieve. Perhaps it’s less about achievement and more about living. Maybe we should begin the process of becoming the good soil by accepting the message of love, which then grows into love of the neighbour, which then becomes a neighbourhood loving a city, then a county, etc. etc. Perhaps if we all just sat and focused on understanding that we are loved unconditionally by God as a principle, to begin with, it would open us up for tilling so we might become the good soil?
Suddenly I feel like I’m preaching, but I didn’t want to leave you all with the depressing thought that there is nowhere good to begin.
May we all have grace and peace as we try to accept the love of God.