Based on the reading from Mark 4:1-34
According to the Lutheran Study Bible, “Jesus’ parables or stories use everyday examples, but there is usually some uncommon element that makes each one more than a simple observation. Some parables may make a particular point, and others are like allegories with symbolic meanings. Jesus uses parables to engage listeners and challenge what they believe to be true.” (Pg. 1665).
The Narrative Lectionary turns from the onslaught of continuous action punctuated by “immediately” to a slew of parables and discussion of those parables. But even in this, the parables are related to one another – they all have an agricultural theme. And not just an abstract agricultural theme, but rather specific in nature. The parables are about seeds and planning. There is an exception of course – Jesus talking about a lamp under a bushel basket, but even then, the saying relates with the other agricultural parables. Bushel baskets are designed for harvesting and storing produce. And this is the core of what Jesus is talking about.
There are really two elements to each of these parables – the seeds and what they produce. Jesus is telling the same story in different ways with the hope that people might connect to what is being said. As we are told in the chapter, Jesus explains the parables to his disciples, but not the crowds.
So why parables? Why indirect communication like this? Why not just say plainly what he wants to say? I think there are a few reasons.
- In verse 11 Jesus says, “To you (the disciples) has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, bur for those outsides (the crowd), everything comes in parables.” And then he goes on to quote Isaiah 6:9-10 which is a reference to prophetic speaking where the prophet goes where he is sent and says what God wants him to say. But there is no guarantee that others will listen. Jesus knows that not everyone is going to listen. They may hear what he is saying, but they aren’t really listening.
- Indirect communication is a form of subversive communication. Parables and stories like this are designed to be shared widely and evade authorities who might be opposed to their message. As we saw in Chapter 2 of Mark, Jesus has already had conflict with the religious authorities. So when word gets back to them that Jesus was talking about seeds and harvesting, what exactly are they going to do? They don’t understand the underlying meaning and thus miss the point.
- The parables offer a comparison to the way things operate in Jesus’ time and place. The last two parables make a contrast between the Kingdom of God and the unspoken Roman way of operating. Rome is an empire and is often concerned with not wasting resources. The Kingdom of God on the other had is almost careless in its approach to Good News, blessings, and it shows in how the harvest comes and who the harvest benefits.
- Lastly, humanity has a way of dismissing direct communication. If Jesus just said what the Kingdom of God was, would people actually believe it? Jesus did miracle after miracle, yet as the Gospels show there were still demands for signs from Jesus to prove who he was. It wouldn’t have mattered how many more signs he performed for these people. They were already convinced of their belief against Jesus.
Questions for Reflection
- How does God talk to you? Do you wish Jesus would be more direct? Why/why not? What is your favorite and least favorite parable in Scripture and why?