The Gospel according to Mark 4:1-20
On another occasion, Jesus began to teach by the sea. A very large crowd gathered around him so that he got into a boat on the sea and sat down. And the whole crowd was beside the sea on land. And he taught them at length in parables, and in the course of his instruction he said to them, “Hear this! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep. And when the sun rose, it was scorched and it withered for lack of roots. Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it and it produced no grain. And some seed fell on rich soil and produced fruit. It came up and grew and yielded thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.” He added, “Whoever has ears to hear ought to hear.” And when he was alone, those present along with the Twelve questioned him about the parables. He answered them, “The mystery of the Kingdom of God has been granted to you. But to those outside everything comes in parables, so that they may look and see but not perceive and hear and listen but not understand in order that they may not be converted and be forgiven.” Jesus said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand any of the parables? The sower sows the word. These are the ones on the path where the word is sown. As soon as they hear, Satan comes at once and takes away the word sown in them. And these are the ones sown on rocky ground who, when they hear the word, receive it at once with joy. But they have no roots; they last only for a time. Then when tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Those sown among thorns are an other sort. They are the people who hear the word, but worldly anxiety, the lure of riches, and the craving for other things intrude and choke the word, and it bears no fruit. But those sown on rich soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.”
Reflection: I can remember back as eager young man, moving up the ladder of success, to the first time I was included and invited to my first staff meeting at work. Thinking that I already knew everything there is to know about my job and about business. How quickly I learned that the higher up on the ladder one moves the further that you fall down to the realities of life. Lessons learned!
This is the first time that Mark lets us listen in to the content of Jesus’ preaching. I sit near him so that I won’t lose a word. Jesus takes the simple everyday event of seed sowing, and draws rich insights from it. Firstly there is a picture of God as the sower: he knows what he wants to do, prepares well, and then scatters the seed, not carefully but indiscriminately and generously. Every event of my life is a seed sown in my heart, according to Thomas Merton, which is awesome. I pray to nourish each seed so as to find God’s meaning in it.
Jesus elaborates on the mixed fortune of the seeds, but neither I, nor our little inner group of disciples understands. Perhaps I am delegated to ask Jesus to explain it to us. When I settle myself to pray, I do well to ask, ‘O God, make haste to help me’ because I need the grace of the Holy Spirit if I am to be part of the good ground and bear fruit–at least thirty-fold!
The word “parable” comes from two Greek words meaning, “to throw” and “alongside”, that is, to talk about one thing in terms of another. A parable will reveal its meaning to those “with ears to hear” but conceal it from those with closed minds and resistant hearts. Today Mark offers us the familiar Parable of the Sower, followed by an explanation of its meaning. As an experiment, try to forget you ever heard the explanation and listen to the parable itself as if for the first time. (Note that the parable begins and ends with the word “listen”). What do you make of it? What does it mean for you?
In Mark’s explanation the seed is the “word”. Do you recall other biblical references to the “word”? In what contexts do they occur? Remember in Isaiah: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth…so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty…” (Isaiah 55:10-11). Both Isaiah and Mark associate the word with fruitfulness. Do you see this mystery at work in your own life, in the world around you? I certainly have in my life.
I join the crowd gathered in the sunshine on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. I watch Jesus sitting in the boat and listen to his story of the sower. Later I join the apostles and those around Jesus for an explanation of the parable, which they had completely failed to understand. Jesus recognizes that for those outside his circle of faithful followers the truth about him will remain obscure, for example, the scribes from Jerusalem who claimed that Satan possessed him.
Look to your inner self and ask yourself. How do I receive the Word, the message of Jesus – on the path, on rocky ground, among the thorns, or on good soil, so that I will yield a bountiful harvest of goodness and mutual service?