Mark’s Gospel is widely regarded as the first Gospel to have been written and significantly shaped the way subsequent writers wrote about the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth. It is also the shortest Gospel meaning that the details of each part of the narrative tend to be concise and in the original Greek scholars note the Greek is not well written.
In terms of content the book is dominated by the death and resurrection of Christ which forms nearly half the total book. John the Baptist is also more prominent in Mark than the other three Gospels. A further feature of Mark, though by no means unique to Mark, are parables set in nature. Mark 4 contains a number of such parables which culminates in not a parable but a story from the life the Jesus with him calming the waves. The earlier nature parables draw on our common understandings about nature whilst the last section on Mark 4 urges us to see Christ not as a part of creation but as one with the Creator God.
Mark 4: The Parable of the Sower
The Parable of the Growing Seed
26 He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”
The Parable of the Mustard Seed
30 He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
The Use of Parables
33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34 he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
Questions for reflection
- Jesus often tells parables about the natural world and we see two of them here. His audience at the time would have understood his messages about sowing seeds and shepherds; how do we understand them differently now?
- Jesus demonstrates God’s power over nature by calming a storm. What does this tell us about Him?
- Jesus is also able to sleep through the storm when the disciples can’t. Does this tell us something further about Him?
- At harvest time we often sing the hymn, which includes the lines “the winds and waves obey him”. What might be other opportunities during the church year for reflecting on God’s power over nature?
Rowan Williams (2014) Meeting God in Mark
Jeffry John (2001), The Meaning in the Miracles
D.E. Nineham (1969), Saint Mark