Mark 4:21-25

He said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under the bushel basket, or under the bed, and not on the lampstand? For there is nothing hidden, except to be disclosed; nor is anything secret, except to come to light. Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”

And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you. For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” Mark 4:21-25

This is a rather cryptic passage, isn’t it? I’ve thought about it for a couple of days and I’m still not sure what to do with it. What is this lamp thing? What is it revealing? What is hidden? What is secret that needs to come to light?

“The measure you give will be the measure you get”? What’s that about? What is the “still more” you will get? What do those who “have” have? And what is it that they will get more of? How can you take nothing away from those who have nothing?

I don’t know what to call this except a very cryptic passage. It is like verbal tofu – it is a way of communicating that leaves a series of holes just waiting to be filled in by the listeners…if they have ears to hear.

Traditionally we have thought of the light as the teachings of Jesus and Jesus’ call for us to love God and love neighbor. Just about anyone who has ever had anything to do with Sunday School can hear the voices of children singing….”This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine… Hide it under a bushel, NO!…”

Whenever we baptize someone, we give them a candle with the words from Matthew, “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

We get that. It makes sense to us. What doesn’t make sense is the secretive thing. The hidden thing. What is that about?

Here is where we need to remember the context in which Mark wrote. From the very beginning of his gospel, Mark contrasts Jesus with Caesar, Jesus within the milieu of the Roman empire. Seeing this helps us see that we always have to add – to love the teachings of Jesus and Jesus’ call to love our neighbor MORE than we might love Caesar and Caesar’s teachings and ways of doing life. That is dangerous. THAT is subversive. THAT could get a guy killed!

This also calls to mind the “messianic secret” the appears again and again in Mark. Everything will find its meaning in the resurrection of Jesus. His identity and power, now secret and hidden, will be fully revealed when the grave is found empty.

As for the “measure” business? William Shakespeare’s take in Measure for Measure had to do with restorative justice. Angelo, the deputy to the Duke of Vienna, takes a very public hard line against immorality which results in imprisoning a man who got his fiancé pregnant. Then he secretly abuses his power by coercing the sister of a prisoner to sleep with him after she pleads for mercy and the release of her brother. She threatens to expose his hypocrisy but he tells her that no one will believe her because he is powerful and she is nothing. In the end, everything is exposed.

Maybe the meaning of “the measure you give will be the measure you get” is something along the lines of “you will get what you have coming to you.” Or, as Dr. King often said, “The universe bends toward justice.”

Let us pray: Lord, as painful and as difficult as it can be, we pray for your light to shine wherever it needs to in order to bring us to conscious awareness of injustice and the destructive, even if seductive, power of sin. Let that light shine in and through us, that we might follow you even if against the grain of those who would follow Caesar instead. In Jesus’ name. Amen.


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