Wednesday of week 3 of Ordinary Time – Gospel


Commentary on Mark 4:1-20
 

Today we see Jesus teaching by the seashore. The crowds were so great that Jesus had to use one of his disciples’ boats and preach from there. Generally speaking, Jesus teaches the crowds near the sea but, when teaching his disciples, he tends to go to a mountain or secluded place.
For the first time in Mark, we come across a number of parables spoken by Jesus. Before we go on to discuss the parable in today’s passage, let us make a few remarks about parables in general. In the New Testament the word ‘parable’ a wide range of literary forms. In general, however, it can be said that a parable is a way of illustrating a point of Jesus’ teaching through an illustration from daily life. Sometimes there may be an exaggerated element only to make the point the parable more striking. Strictly speaking, the difference between a parable and an allegory is that the former just makes one point as a comparison while in the latter each of the items in the story has a symbolism of its own. Generally speaking, Jesus’ parables were of the first kind but allegory cannot always be excluded. We will see that in today’s parable of the sower which is a parable in the strict sense but when Jesus explains the parable to his disciples it is made to look more like an allegory. It is not a point to argue about.
The parable of the sower, as presented here, is in three parts. The first part seems to be close to what Jesus actually said and, like most parables, just makes one point. That point is that God’s sowing represent his plan to build the Kingdom, to make his reign effective in the world. Although it may seem to meet with partial or total failure in some areas, overall it will certainly succeed. God’s plans will not be frustrated.
It is a parable to induce confidence, especially for a tiny Church in times of difficulty and persecution (which Mark’s church would have been experiencing).
The parable concludes with the call: "Listen, anyone who has ears to hear!" Listening is a very important element in our relationship with God and Jesus. In the Gospel, listening involves:
– actually hearing the message
– understanding the message
– assimilating the message into one’s own thinking
Once we have reached the third stage, the final stage will inevitably follow:
– acting on the message. Once a way of seeing life becomes part of us, then our behaviour will want to act accordingly. We will not have to force ourselves to act. This is the freedom that comes with being one with Christ and his way.
The next part of the passage may seem strange. It seems to say that Jesus spoke in parables so that those outside his own circle would not be able to understand. That does not really make sense. Was his message not for all? In fact, Jesus is quoting a rather cynical passage from the Hebrew Testament about people who keep looking but never see, keep listening but never hear. Why? Because if they did see and understand, they might be converted and change but they do not want to be converted or to change. They have already made up their minds. We can meet people like that today.
In fact, the parables, using graphic images from familiar scenes in daily life, were spoken precisely to help people understand the message of Jesus. But, as we have seen, there were those who simply did not want to see even the obvious.
Finally, there is another interpretation of the parable in response to a request by the disciples for an explanation. The explanation somewhat changes the emphasis on the parable itself and it become more an allegory than a parable. In the original parable the emphasis is really on the sower, God, and the ultimate success of his work.
Here the emphasis is on the soil in which the seed is trying to grow. It describes different responses to the Word of the God (the seed). We have to realise first that, in Palestine at this time, the sowing took place before the ploughing. Then we need to visualise a rock-strewn field lying fallow since the last harvest. There are public paths going across it. Weeds and brambles have grown up in parts. This is where the farmer will scatter his seed.
Some seed falls on the barren paths. It gets no welcome and never even begins to grow. Birds come and eat it up. This refers to those who come in contact with the message of Jesus but it never even gets a start in their lives.
Some falls on the rocks where in the crevices there may be some moisture. The seed begins to grow but soon runs out of moisture and nourishment, withers and dies. This is compared to those who embrace Christianity with enthusiasm but, once they meet with some opposition or persecution (which would have been common in the early Church), they fall away.
Some falls among the weeds and brambles. The seed does take root but the weeds are growing too and they eventually choke out the wheat. This is a picture of the Christian who gets caught up in the prevailing (materialistic) values of the surrounding society and produces nothing.
Finally, there is seed which falls on fertile soil and yields a good harvest in varying amounts. These are the Christians who really hear the word (see above) and produce much fruit. Notice that to be a Christian, it is not enough just to be fervent and
observant but one also must be productive. “A good tree bears good fruit.” A branch of the vine that does not bear fruit will be cut off.
I may reflect today which of the above categories best describes me.

 

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