Reading: Mark 4:1-20
Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.” Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’ Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? The farmer sows the word. Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”
We have now been introduced to the first of the disciples called by Jesus. We have seen the first of the opposition from those who are out to get him. We have been told how the crowds were amazed and worshipped God because of the things they have seen and heard from Jesus. The twelve disciples are now all in place, Jesus has healed many people and the crowds which follow are growing and so is the opposition. We now move into the next part of the unrolling of the Gospel according to Mark, the well-known collection of parables and the mystery of the Gospel with the tensions of faith and misunderstanding. Two years ago at this time we looked at some of the parables of Jesus so I intend not to do so again but to look at one of the first he delivered. Although they come to us as one block of sayings the likelihood is that the collection is either put together by Mark in this way or else this is the way they were presented to him and he is simply recording them thus. Certainly the longest and some would say the best known of these parables is this one about the sowing of the seeds, which unlike others, goes on to Jesus giving some explanation as to what the parable actually means. We are given this picture image story of his preaching and his ministry, both the discouragements as wells as the consolations. Similar to the prophets of the Old Testament, similar too, the messenger of today. Jesus recognises that many of those who hear are unresponsive. He illustrates; the path, the rocky places, the thorns and the good soil. In amongst three of the four landings there is no reward whatsoever or at best a very short time of growth. Yet on that other one, the good soil where there was a good response, there is growth even up to one hundred times its yield. Just as is the case with the other parables Jesus draws it to a close with a challenge. ‘He who has ears to hear, let him hear.’ Put another way, ‘what kind of soil do you say you are?’ There are some questions and difficulty surrounding what Jesus says next as he draws the parable to a close and the disciples ask about his parables. Jesus says, ‘the secret of the kingdom has been given to you.’ This draws together that whole tension of faith and misunderstanding. Jesus was not trying to stop people from understanding. He is fulfilling a prophesy in verse 12 that was delivered in Isaiah chapter 9. The open hearted would be receptive to hearing the word and the hard hearted would not. A parable will reveal a hidden truth that only those who wish to know, only those who are seeking God will understand. By the responses of those who heard the parable Jesus could tell the condition of their heart; open or closed, hard or soft. Jesus could tell the condition of their attitude; humble or proud. The proud, hard hearted could see with their eyes but could not understand what it was they saw. They could see Jesus standing before them but they could not understand who Jesus was. Their ears would allow them to hear the words being spoken but the condition of the heart barred them from understanding. There were those who had already hardened their heart enough that they denied God. The spiritual eyes and ears of those are closed and they themselves, not Jesus, have done this. God does not hide spiritual truths from any of his children but it is they who make the choice in life not to see nor hear them for themselves. Matthew’s Gospel adds to that ending by saying, ‘but blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear.’ Those who were in the company of Jesus were being blessed because they had seen and heard him. Many in the generations gone before had lived their entire lives looking to the day of the Messiah coming on earth but did not live to see it. Over the years we have all heard sermons delivered that would go into the explanations of the parable. Instead I want to move to what happens next and in doing so I want to start by going back a bit, as we visit the Old Testament prophet Isaiah again where we encounter God saying, ‘so is my word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish want I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it’. The farmer who sows the seeds of God does not so in vain. Yes, there will be times and places where fruit will not grow but there will always be a harvest in some of the ground we cover. Jesus is not sending his people, including us, out in any deluded state. He tells us quite matter of fact. Things will not always be easy. There will be rocky places where roots will not take hold, there are thorns out there that will delight in choking the life out of good crops, but reassured there will always be fruit and a harvest for your toils. Some ground will need to be worked over several times, we might need to call on help to remove a particularly large and heavy rock but it can be done. The started point is hearing the word in the parable. Remember not all of the thorns are outside some might be within us; greed and anger, envy and aggression. The next step is discovering what kind of soil is in our heart? That we might return five, ten, one hundred fold the harvest of the word of God.