Summary In chapter four of Mark, Jesus speaks in parables: the parable of the sower, the lamp under the bushel basket, the parable of the growing seed, and the parable of the mustard seed. The chapter concludes with a word about the use of parables and a demonstration of Jesus' authority over natural forces.
Recall Matthew thirteen concerning the use of parables:
Here, clearly, the purpose of parables has to do with the kingdom of heaven. Mark records a similar purpose: 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. " In a later section in this chapter of Mark, the explanation is added: 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. Readers need simply to recall that the teachings of Jesus in Galilee have been accompanied by controversy. Parables in picturesque images use analogy to refer to a similar but different reality. Jesus used parables to illustrate truth with daily life; although drawn from daily life, they may be exaggerated. The parables of Jesus are generally used to illustrate; here in Mark, however, they seem to be used to conceal. One rightfully asks why Jesus would want to conceal and why he would not desire that people "turn again and be forgiven." The following general uses of parables are cited in Oxford Companion:
Since Jesus in proclaiming that the Kingdom of God is near at hand has everywhere faced challenge and opposition, it would seem appropriate to think that, perhaps, he does have in mind here a softening of the seditious. He teaches about the Kingdom of God publicly without arousing overt anger or suspicion of his motives.
The first parable provided is that of the sower.
In this case, Jesus himself interprets the parable for his disciples; we need to note that he is alone with the twelve and other believers:
Jesus is about the work of instructing his followers. There is clearly here the sense of those inside and those outside: truth is revealed but comprehended only by those initiated.
On the heels of Jesus' words about mystery and those initiated into truth revealed comes the next parable:
If this is applied to the previous parable, it would seem to suggest that Jesus is not in the business of hiding light: what is hidden will be disclosed; what is secret will come to light. These lines suggest the mystery exists relative to timing: hidden now, will be disclosed; what is secret now, will come to light. The obstruction to understanding is, ironically, the very means of understanding: the mental structure of time. Little wonder that Jesus should say, "Pay attention." He goes on to speak even more directly: what you give, you will get; those having will get more, and those without anything will discover even that taken. If one begins with possessing truth revealed, then more will be gotten; if one begins without revealed truth, even what he has will be taken. How simple! The parable works on two levels--the invisible kingdom coming into being and the existing, but disappearing temporal kingdom.
Jesus, still speaking of the Kingdom of God turns to the parable of the growing seed:
He's direct here in talking about the Kingdom of God and the mystery of its growth--the point is that "how it [the kingdom] grows," one does not know. Even organic life is not understood in impulse, but only in manifest result: the stalk, the head, the full grain. These parables are not unrelated: Jesus began by talking about a sower, then talked about parables as not being anything more than a "timed" disclosure, and moves now to the idea of the germinating seed or the invisible made visible in time.
The Kingdom of God, if one credits the connected argument, begins with twelve and a few followers, a very small number. This time, the figurative image is the mustard seed.
The mustard seed grows very quickly, in a matter of weeks, from the smallest of seeds into a ten to twelve foot bush. As the mustard seed becomes the greatest bush, so will the Kingdom of God become the greatest kingdom.
Having used details from nature in these parables, it's not surprising to find this argument logically culminating in a demonstration of Jesus' authority or control over the natural or temporal world:
I'm struck by the very human cry, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" This is the mortal cry in all days and all ages. Jesus responds, as he has throughout Mark, by acting, "He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, 'Peace! Be still." What follows is dead calm. The disciples are probably even more afraid now; at first, they had been confronted only by natural and temporal powers; now, they are in the presence of the spiritual manifest, and they are afraid and filled with awe. They ask, even though Mark has answered this in the beginning and will continue to answer it through the passion and resurrection. "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?" The answer, though not supplied here, is simple: he is the Son of God, and the Kingdom of God is even now being revealed among humankind.
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