Most of Mark’s Gospel takes place around Galilee and has an intimate feel. In the opening of Mark 4 this sense of intimacy is enhanced through the crowd pressing in around Jesus and the story that Jesus tells which would be immediately recognizable to those listening.
More people globally live in cities than in rural areas and in developed nations like the United Kingdom the large majority live in urban environments. We have lost our intimacy with the land and so will not hear agricultural parables with the same sense of familiarity as the first hearers of Jesus’ stories. In the following parable two kinds of knowledge are required to understand the parable the first is some very basic knowledge about agricultural which everyone in the audience would have. The second is understanding the Good News that Christ is proclaiming. On this second point there was little understanding amongst the listeners.
Mark 4: The Parable of the Sower
4 Again he began to teach beside the sea. Such a very large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the sea and sat there, while the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. 2 He began to teach them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: 3 “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. 6 And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. 8 Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.” 9 And he said, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”
The Purpose of the Parables
10 When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; 12 in order that ‘they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand; so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.’”
13 And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand all the parables? 14 The sower sows the word. 15 These are the ones on the path where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. 16 And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: when they hear the word, they immediately receive it with joy. 17 But they have no root, and endure only for a while; then, when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. 18 And others are those sown among the thorns: these are the ones who hear the word, 19 but the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it yields nothing. 20 And these are the ones sown on the good soil: they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.”
Questions for reflection
- Is the use of nature in Christ’s parables simply a device to connect with his first century audience or should we see something deeper in the repeated use of natural imagery in the parables?
- Might this parable tell us about is the connection between a person’s salvation and their physical or emotional wellbeing?
- Jesus’ parables required a knowledge of his contemporary world. What kinds of knowledge do we require of our contemporary world to tackle the sorts of challenges we face?