Mark 4:13-20

And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand all the parables? The sower sows the word. 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.

And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: when they hear the word, they immediately receive it with joy. 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.

And others are those sown among the thorns: these are the ones who hear the word, 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.

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.” Mark 4:13-20

Jesus taught like the favorite teachers you had while growing up. The kind of teacher you loved, not just because of what he or she said, but how he or she said it. Fun teachers wouldn’t refer to someone who didn’t like to waste their money as “thrifty”, they would say the person is “tighter than Dick’s hat band.” You might not know what a hat band is, certainly not who Dick is, but you’d catch the meaning and you would laugh.

Or maybe you wouldn’t have much of a sense of humor. You would miss the point and ask a friend, “I don’t get it. What is a hat band?” Something would get lost in translation. The point would lose the punch. The response to the explanation might be “Oh. I still don’t get it.”

Using words to paint pictures is the art of communication. Sometimes Jesus taught – like here with the sower and the seeds parable – using allegory where the words used are symbols carrying a different or deeper meaning. The meaning emerges in the interpretation.

I never knew, for example, while watching “The Wizard of Oz” that it was a satirical take on various political issues like the argument between the gold or silver standards for money. Once you start playing with interpretations you realize the depth of the original allegory. The fun, the power, and the danger, come in the interpretation.

We could, for example, play with what Jesus (or Mark) means using the word “word.” Someone could say that “word means ‘Jesus himself’ like it will be later used at the beginning of the gospel of John.” Another could say it means “the message that Jesus teaches as summarized in the beginning of Mark, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’” And that might lead still someone else to see the political implications of Jesus’ message – how the good news that Jesus brings differs from the good news that Caesar brings.

See what happens when a story starts to cook in the conversations about it?

However we understand “word”, it is clear from the parable that Jesus is comparing it not only to a seed but to what happens when that seed lands. The seed itself – like any of our interpretations of “word” – is a bundle of potential. Where it lands leads to what happens next.

We could, as I did in my earliest years, turn this parable back onto itself and start categorizing people based on how they respond to Jesus. I remember feeling very guilty about being rocky ground, knowing full well that I really ought to try much harder to be good soil. As if “soil” had the moral agency to change itself or as if seeds had the ability to escape the bird that snatches it before it has time to germinate.

Now I’m older and I’m much more comfortable with the mystery of how we are all the types of soil at the same time and the real surprise is always that any seed finds that soil which yields an abundant harvest.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, thank you for bringing meaning into our lives in ways which engage us, make us think, guide us to wonder, invite us to play. We confess those times when we are resistant, superficial, or distracted, and we thank you for those moments when we glimpse you at work in the depths of who you have created us to be. In Jesus’ name. Amen.


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