Mark 4

Readings for this week September 16 – 20
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Day 1 – Prepare Your Ears to Hear

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Mark 4:1-3

“Now hear this! Now hear this!” Something important is on the way; an important message is about to be delivered, so ears open and pay attention people! This is what Jesus is saying to the crowd; the addition of “Let him who has ears hear!” later on in verse 9 offers a post-parable reinforcement of this point. He wants their attention and so he grabs it – and then seems to let it go straight away with a very boring, commonplace opening line: a farmer went out to sow. But this rhetorical strategy is designed to hook his audience in even more. By commanding their attention and then offering such a plain beginning, Jesus creates the suspicion that there must be more here than there at first appears to be, just like in a riddle or a paradox.

But once our attention is engaged, where are we meant to focus it? What are we meant to look at, question, interpret, ponder? There are three main things that people have focused attention on to varying degrees over the millennia that this parable has been read and wrestled with: the sower, the seed, and the harvest. To focus on the sower is to look at Jesus’ role as revealer of the kingdom, the one whose ministry leads to an incredibly bountiful harvest. Or if we focus on the seeds we see the perennial rigours and risks of sowing: birds, rocky ground, thorns and weeds. And then there is the harvest, the end product of the sowing, measured in terms of the ratio of seed to crop yield.  A parable is a short story, yes; but short doesn’t mean simple or one note. Even in such a brief tale, there is much that Jesus would say to his audience. Let those with ears hear.

Questions to Consider
What do you notice in this parable? What draws your attention? Why?

Prayer
Lord God, give me ears to hear and eyes to see. Guide me into wisdom, show me who you are and who I am in you and the part I have to play in the harvest. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – Getting Our Heads Around the Parables

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Mark 4:4-9

Have we become immune to the parables? Have they become so familiar to us that whatever bite, whatever edge they originally had, whatever deep ruminations they were designed to engender in their hearers’ minds, has long since been blunted by repetition? We are so familiar with the stories and images and characters, and so easily come to what we think the point is meant to be, that it sometimes seems hard to believe that they often caused deep offence – and perplexity – to Jesus’ audience. The parables are short tales, drawn from everyday life and experience, often with a sting in the tail. But 2000 years’ distance can sometimes leave us missing the more subtle effects, and walking away from the parable with so much left uncovered.

For example, our first thought about the sower might be, “What a wasteful, uninformed idiot.” He doesn’t plough his field in preparation for the planting of seeds, he just seems to chuck seed randomly all over the place, some on the field (but almost by accident really), some by the path, other seeds on the rocks. But this was the nature of sowing in that particular time and place; this was how the farmers distributed their seed, sowing first and then ploughing the field, hence why the seed falls in places we wouldn’t expect. And what are we to make of the fact that after the first line of the parable, the sower is not mentioned again? The parables pull at our minds, stretching them, taking us down paths of thought we might not otherwise travel – if we will take the time to let them.

Question to Consider
What does this parable tell us about God and his coming kingdom?

Prayer
Almighty God, give me fresh eyes to see anew each day what your word reveals about you and about your plan for this world. Enlighten me again so that my life may be a blessing for others the world over. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – “There Are More Things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio…”

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Mark 4:10-14

Bearing in mind what we said previously about the nature of parables, it seems paradoxical to think that Jesus deliberately spoke in parables so that certain parts of his audience would not understand what he was saying. And yet, unlike his other parables, Jesus felt the need to offer his disciples an interpretation of what he had said, an interpretation that reveals the hidden, mysterious nature of the kingdom of God. We like to think that we are on the ‘inside’, that we are the chosen ones who understand exactly what he means, privy to what Jesus is saying and doing in a way that others aren’t. We know the disciples sometimes felt this way too – their arguments over who was the greatest are testament to the fact that insider status was initially very important to them. Is it the same for us too?

“The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you.” We all want to be like the disciples, part of the ‘in’ crowd. And yet Jesus’ statement is immediately contradicted by his question in verse 13 about whether the disciples understand this parable, or any parable – so maybe they don’t really get it after all! The kingdom remains hidden, veiled, and mysterious – for everyone, inside and out. Without Jesus, true understanding of the kingdom eludes us and entry to the kingdom is impossible. Mystery abounds: yes, Jesus was God’s agent in bringing the kingdom to us. But the fullness of the kingdom is, at this moment, a case of ‘not yet.’ Even as his followers we must remain watchful, alert, open to the mysterious promptings, nudgings and leadings of the Holy Spirit, never for a moment thinking that we’ve got it all mapped out ahead of us and that we know everything there is to know.  There is always more of God to experience.

Questions to Consider
What stopped the disciples understanding Jesus? What stops us?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, forgive my complacency and arrogance; forgive me when I stop chasing after you and settle for ‘what I have always known and done’ Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – The Mystery of Hope

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Mark 4:15-20

This parable of the sower is above all a parable about the mystery of hope, and how acting on that (often hidden) hope requires us to trust in the faithfulness and providence of God. Jesus, as agent of the kingdom, assures us, if we will hear, that the gospel will be heard, God’s will shall be done and the harvest will come. The fulfilment of the kingdom of God is as mysterious as an abundant harvest. It is a mystery for us because we see so much seed seemingly going to waste, disappearing in wasteful fruitlessness. Poverty is evident all around the globe; hatred and violence reign unopposed; relational fragmentation and environmental destruction are in the ascendant. The evidence of seemingly wasted seeds and fruitless soil is everywhere.

As followers of Jesus the parable is not so much calling us to be good soil (though there is certainly nothing wrong with that and I certainly would not discourage it); we already have the gospel implanted in us and are hopefully already living faithful, fruitful kingdom lives. What the parable is encouraging us to do is live confidently in faith that the scattered seed, despite all the signs to the contrary around us, will bear fruit and the harvest will come – somehow, mysteriously, despite the signs of failure around us, a bountiful kingdom harvest will eventuate. This is not to say that we need do nothing, that we can sit back and just wait for the harvest to come. We are God’s workers in the field, working in partnership with the sower, who guarantees the harvest. The kingdom, now veiled, will one day be triumphant, of that we can be assured.

Questions to Consider
How do we live in hope? What does this look like in today’s world?

Prayer
Lord God, you are the hope of the world, the one who holds all things in your hands, the one who will bring all creation back to fullness and wholeness. Remind me when I forget. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – Light That Reveals All

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Mark 4:21-25

What is the basis for the hope and trust we are called to have that the kingdom will come in all its fullness, that the harvest will be plentiful, and that God will reign supreme? Mark reminds us that the answer is Jesus, the one who embodies the light of God’s truth and reign. Jesus is the light and his coming confirms that God has begun the process of dispelling the darkness that surrounds us and seems to be threatening to overwhelm us. The purpose of a lamp is to give light; the purpose of Jesus coming was to bring light to the world – the light that reveals and brings to light that which is currently hidden – namely, God’s mercy and judgement.

Secrets will be brought into the light and revealed, both the secret, ultimately unstoppable purposes of God and the secret sins of the wicked. God is sovereign and he still reigns, even despite the darkness surrounding us. The light of the Son has shone forth, and continues to shine still, revealing how we have measured out our lives – and therefore revealing how judgement will be measured out to us: the fair treated fairly, the just justly, the scornful treated with scorn. God is already at work in the world, and the principles of the kingdom, though hidden, determine what the ultimate consequences of the way we live our lives and the choices that we make will be. Those who strive to be light for others will be enlightened themselves; those who scurry for the darkness will get their wish, in full. The light has come; how will we live in this new reality?

Questions to Consider
How is Jesus the light? How are you the light for others?

Prayer
Loving Father, so many live in darkness, unaware of the light. Help me share your light with others: the poor, the downtrodden, the hopeless, those pushed into the darkness by others. May your light reveal their plight and all that causes it. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)