We sometimes think Jesus relied only on himself for his teaching material. This isn’t the case. He drew heavily on Old Testament teachings, as did Mark when he wrote his Gospel. There are similarities between Jesus’ parables and Ezekiel’s, especially the one in Ezekiel 17. For instance, Mk 4:32 has similarities with Ezk 17:23, suggesting Jesus, and also Mark were familiar with Ezekiel.
Prepare to listen. Sit still, take a few deep breaths then pray: Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere your name. (Psalm 86:11)
Read Mark 4:26-34
26He also said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.’ 30He also said, ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.’ 33With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
For the first time in chapter 4 Mark specifically states the two parables in this section are about ‘the kingdom of God.’ Their purpose is to reveal some of the ‘mystery’ by giving a sense of what the kingdom is like. And it’s not like what many think! Some think the kingdom of God is still a future reality and has little to nothing to do with us right now; others think it will be a ‘heavenly’ reality with little in common to our present ‘earthly’ reality. These views contain an essence of truth but miss the whole truth and thus lead to distorted practice.
Both parables are seemingly improbable. In the first, a harvest develops but no one knows how. The farmer scatters the seed but then does nothing to make it grow. In the second, a small seed becomes a huge tree. The implication is that kingdom growth is neither obvious nor within the control of humans. Both parables also insist that the kingdom has already been ‘planted’ on earth. It is the ‘seed’ that has been planted and is growing now, today. As Robert Capon notes, “The kingdom Jesus proclaims is at hand, planted here, at work in this world” (2002, p. 78). We’re not waiting for it to come in some distant future, neither is it only to be experienced in a ‘spiritual’ realm (heaven). It’s happening now, on this earth, and we can experience it, albeit only in part.
The first parable, which only Mark tells, suggests that humans don’t know very much about how the kingdom grows. Once the seed is sown, the sower does nothing much but live each day as it comes while the seed just quietly keeps growing until it reaches full harvest. It happens in its (or rather God’s) own time and pace. It grows because the kingdom has already been planted.
The second parable, common to all three Synoptic Gospels, gives the assurance that, despite what we do or think, the kingdom will keep growing in the world now until it takes over and triumphs.
The parables counsel patience and hope. Patience because the growth of the kingdom is at God’s pace and beyond our control. There will be no quick solution to the troubles in the world; victory won’t be instant. We must patiently wait for its fulfillment. Hope because the end is sure and unshakeable. The seed has been sown; the harvest will come.
In what ways do these two parables encourage (or not) you in patience and hope?
Reflect on how they shape your view of God’s Kingdom by naming some specific things you’ve learned thus far.
Respond to Jesus in prayer
We regularly pray, Lord, for your kingdom to come, but it’s also real and growing right now. Help me wait patiently for its fullness, resting in the sure hope that this is your purpose, and lead me to live as a kingdom person today. I pray in name, Amen.
Go and live obediently in the world assured of God’s Kingdom growing around you.