Today’s reading was Mark 4:1-20, The Parable of the Sower
4 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. 2 He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: 3 “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.”
9 Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”
10 When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables.11 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 12 so that,
“‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving,
and ever hearing but never understanding;
otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’”
13 Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? 14 The farmer sows the word. 15 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. 16 Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. 17 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. 18 Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; 19 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.20 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.”
So what does Jesus mean when he talks about those on the outside? And that even though he teaches in parables, they will not understand. I think the point here is the same point as in the rest of the parable: spiritual receptivity. Even if he uses stories to illustrate his points, if you are not spiritually open, they will remain opaque and confusing to you. It’s not that encouraging that the disciples too seem confused by the parable!
The main lesson of the parable is clear: we need to be receptive to what God has to teach us, and for what God wants to do in us. If this all works as it should, we will multiply this good work of God many times. But there three main threats.
- There is the spiritual threat of Satan’s influence, which robs the lesson from us. How can we combat this? Perhaps by taking notes, reading the Bible, reminding ourselves of truth, washing and renewing our mind with the word of God.
- There is the threat that we have only a surface understanding and a surface desire for discipleship, and so our commitment is weak and short-lived when we face any kind of opposition. How can we defend against this? By banding together with others. We stand stronger together. The New Testament has over 100 “one another” commands, such as “Encourage one another,” “Bear one another’s burdens,” etc. The Christian who tries to do such things alone is easy prey. That’s why we have such a push for people to get involved in small groups, where they can know others, be known themselves, and stand strong together.
- There is a danger that the stuff of life, a desire for deceitful wealth and desires for other things will crowd out the work of God. To defend against this requires a constant process of evaluation: is something else becoming more important to me that God? Are my desires for God, or for something else?
But for the one who perseveres, who receives the word of God, internalizes it and lives it, there is a rich harvest, in their own life, and in the life of others. So, two self-examination questions this morning:
- Of the three threats mentioned above, which are you currently most vulnerable to, and how can you defend against it?
- Is the blessing of God in your life working itself out in such a way that you are a blessing to others. If not, how can you change that? What could you do to bless someone else today?