13th June 2021 – 2nd Sunday after Trinity [Proper 6]
Readings – Ezekiel 17:22-end, 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, 14-17, Mark 4:26-34
Chapter 4 of Mark’s gospel is a chapter of parables. The headings in my Revised Standard Version of the Bible are as follows:-
The Parable of the Sower, the Purpose of the Parables, A lamp under a Bushel Basket, The Parable of the Growing Seed, the Parable of the Mustard Seed, The use of Parables and Jesus stills a Storm.
Concentrating upon the two parables in our set reading we note that they both make use of the imagery of seed and agriculture, not unlike the Parable of the Sower. No doubt the word ‘seed’ acted as a memory device for early Christians thus enabling them to link these parables.
The parable of the sower is probably to be seen as a parable of encouragement with an emphasis on the incredibly rich harvest, whereas in the parable of the growing seed there is a contrast between the insignificant action of the sower who merely scatters seed on the ground and the development of the harvest. The grain grows whether he is awake or asleep and he doesn’t know how. The early Christian readers of the gospel who hadn’t yet witnessed the great harvest themselves surely applied Jesus’ assurance to their own lives and mission of proclaiming God’s message. Let’s call it a parable of encouragement, for them and us, of the great harvest to come and let’s also note that this parable is one of the few passages in Mark that doesn’t appear in the other gospels
Our other parable, which appears in Matthew and Luke in almost identical words, sets out the contrast between the insignificant mustard seed and the fully grown plant that it produces, not the process involved. So, the lesson is not that the kingdom of God comes by quiet, prolonged growth, but rather that, though many might think the manifestation of the kingdom in Jesus’ ministry insignificant, they would be proved wrong in the day of its full appearance. And the disciples, for whom the parable was originally intended, were to have confidence that their humble ministry was to have great results. It’s the same for us as the parable still speaks to us today. The kingdom still seems far away but we can be confident that it will come, in God’s time.
Our gospel lesson concludes with two verses [33 and 34] which contain a summary statement on Jesus’ use of parable, which describes them as his characteristic form of teaching and which reaffirms the special place of the disciples. The parables are described as suited to the crowd’s level of understanding. Parables are not really intended to confuse the crowds but they are veiled communication forms requiring active listening and the desire to understand. A major theme in Mark is that the true significance and meaning of Jesus were not really clear until after his crucifixion and resurrection. Parables are seen as the appropriate form of speech during the period when the full meaning of Jesus had not been shown and indeed, could not be shown
A Hymn to read and sing – Love divine, all loves excelling, [R&S 663]