19 January 2016

Mark 4:1-20

“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.’” (v. 11)

Psalm: Psalm 15


Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Or is it?

I doubt any of us will have ever heard the parable of the sower without also hearing the explanation from Jesus. It is therefore hard for us to imagine being the people who heard the parable without hearing it explained - those who were confused, or those who just did not get it.

Instead, thanks to Mark's Gospel, we all take the shortcut to discipleship, and immediately hear what it means without wrestling with it. I wonder how our faith might differ if the 'answer' was not available to us unless we first committed to discipleship, to following Jesus without knowing what it meant. Would Scripture be valued differently if explanations were not easily available? (I wonder if stories from around the world suggest that maybe we would be thirstier for God's word.)

It seems Jesus attracted larger crowds through teaching that was less about answers and more about challenges through stories; yet our pattern generally seems rather different.

Culturally and economically this parable is set in a very different environment to what most of us know. In our age few of us have to make decisions about where to sow expensive, limited quantities seed knowing that it is so important to meeting the needs of our families that it can't be wasted. So how do we relate to the image of a 'wasteful', generous, abundant God who scatters the seed everywhere knowing full well that much of it will not bear fruit?

We live in a time of so called 'austerity' when there are calls, after recent flooding, to stop helping those in other countries in order to assistthose close at home. I wonder how this parable challenges us. Does God, as the sower, model austerity or something very different? God does not retain the seed, God does not restrict the seed to the 'good' soil, but scatters it everywhere in the full knowledge that this is extravagant and 'ineffective'. The seed is not rationed, the decision on how much to sow and where is not influenced by the likely outcome. Instead we have more images of God's abundance and generosity, and of God loving and giving to those who will never respond.

To Ponder

  • If we learn the secret of the parable without having to work for it, does the meaning sink in? Does it still challenge us? Why?
  • Do we choose to be more generous if we think there will be a response? Is our giving focused on effectiveness or on the abundant generosity of God? Why?
  • If God is described by Jesus as abundantly generous then is that how people see the disciples of Jesus too? If not, why not?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dave Warnock

Dave Warnock is a Methodist minister in the Leicester North Circuit based in Syston, Leicester. He is passionate about lots of things (including Scripture, discipleship, gender/sexual equality, pacifism and cycling) and loves being part of the Methodist people.