Sunday 14 June 2015

Bible Book:

"The kingdom of God ... is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth." (vv. 30-31)

Mark 4:26-34 Sunday 14 June 2015

Psalm: Psalm 92


Insignificant, unnoticed events are the focus of this passagefrom Mark's Gospel, which takes ordinary, everyday activities toexplore the signs of God's activity in the world.

These two parables come at the end of a chapter-long account ofJesus' teaching, which begins with Jesus climbing into a boat inorder to make a space from which he can address people who havefollowed him to the lakeside (verses 1-3).

There is a tendency to interpret parables in overly simple oroverly complex ways. Parables are indirect forms of communication,and their meaning is more likely to shift than solidify. Certainly,the writer of Mark's Gospel believed the parables needed to beexplained (verses 33-34); and even the disciples repeatedly failedto hear what Jesus tried to tell them.

Reading these parables centuries after they were first told,increases the likelihood of misunderstanding. Unlike the crowd bythe lake, many of whom would have lived off the land, theagricultural examples given are unfamiliar to many readers today.In addition, the allusions to other biblical texts, obvious toJesus' hearers, are often missed and with them, clues as to how tointerpret the parables.

In the first parable (verses 26-29) a farmer prepares ground,plants seed and waits faithfully for God to bring about a crop. Thesecond parable (verses 30-32) refers to the tiny mustard seed.Unlike the gentle pace of the grain, the mustard seed grows fast,springing up. God's kingdom emerges slowly or quickly, but alwaysunexpectedly, in ways that cannot be controlled or forced.

The second parable draws on Ezekiel17:22-24, which imagines the restoration of the royal house ofDavid, as a cedar tree in which beasts and birds will shelter. Butelsewhere similar images are used to critique the violence of humanempires (Ezekiel 31Daniel4). Such allusions suggest that the parable of the mustard seedin Mark is a parody: God's kingdom is more like a messy shrub thana noble tree (describes Adela Yarbro Collins in Mark (FortressPress, 2007)). Yet this is enough. For God does not work throughhuman strength, but the small, unnoticed actions of small,unnoticed people.

To Ponder

  • What do you think is a successful church?
  • What signs of God's working do you see in your local community,church or neighbourhood?
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