For personal, devotional use in this season of COVID-19 public health protocols.
Mark 4:1-20 New International Version (NIV)
The Parable of the Sower
4 Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. 2 He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: 3 “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.”
9 Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”
10 When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. 11 He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables 12 so that,
“‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving,
and ever hearing but never understanding;
otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’[a]”
13 Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? 14 The farmer sows the word. 15 Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. 16 Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. 17 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 18 Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; 19 but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. 20 Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”
October 25, 2020 Mark 4:1-20
“THE LIFE-GIVING WORD”
“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light
to my path.” Psalm 119:105
Have you ever heard the words “Listen up!”? They get our attention; these words prepare us for those that are about to follow…and we had better pay attention!
In our bible reading for today, Jesus tells the large crowd that has gathered around him to “Listen up!”. “Listen”, Jesus says, and then he proceeds to tell a story about a farmer. In that large crowd, perhaps there are lots of farmers…people who know about seeds…and planting…and weeding and watering…and crop production…and harvesting. Even those of us who go to the garden center every spring for pre-planted pots of this and that, know enough about “farming” to catch the drift of Jesus’ story.
Yes, Jesus tells a story about a farmer who sows his seed, not just anywhere…but everywhere. This farmer is indiscriminate. He plunges his hand into his seed-sack and tosses it outward, to fall to the earth. We’re told by Jesus that some seed falls on the pathway and immediately it becomes a fast-food restaurant for the local birds flying by. Other seed falls among the rocks, but without the nutrients and moisture of adequate soil, this seed’s longevity and productivity is cut short. Still other seed falls on untilled land, where there are thorns and weeds that choke out the farmer’s seed. And then there is the seed that falls on good land…tilled soil; earth that contains nutrients and moisture; perhaps a plot of land that is tended diligently and perseveringly by the farmer and his household. I can hear it in my ears: “Kids, before you go and play with your friends, I want you to go on out there and do row of weeding!”. The seed that falls on the good soil grows and flourishes and yields a harvest, an extravagant harvest, many multiple times over. This is the seed that produces abundance, and no doubt is the cause for much joy and celebration when the harvest is completed.
But what kind of farmer sows seeds everywhere? What kind of farmer wastes his seeds where the possibility of a yield is next to none? What kind of farmer doesn’t pay attention to the “bottom line” in order to minimize his losses while maximizing his profits?
After saying “Listen up”, Jesus concludes his story about this most unusual farmer with the words “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”. (Mk. 4:9)
Sometime later Jesus is alone with his closest friends and followers, including his disciples. This story about the farmer with his seed isn’t the only story Jesus has told, as he has taught the crowds. His closest friends seem curious; perplexed even by Jesus’ words. Perhaps they are wondering, what’s the point of these stories anyways!
Jesus offers a peculiar response to their query. Jesus tells those gathered around him that the secret to the kingdom of heaven has been given to them, but to those “on the outside” the stories, well, are just stories. But if Jesus’ stories are met with “ears that hear” and his stories take root in hearts and lives, well then, that could lead to something new and different and even life-giving!
Present with his closest followers, Jesus looks around him, surely at their blank faces, and says “Don’t you get it? If you don’t get this parable of the farmer and his seed, how are you going to grasp the other stories I share?”
So Jesus proceeds to explain about the farmer with his seed. The seed represents the word of life that comes from God. It is present and in the midst of the world. In fact, the secret of the kingdom of heaven is that this word has become flesh and blood, has taken on a human body, and seeks to dwell and make a new life with all those who listen; those who have ears to hear.
Some, in hearing this word of life are hard and impenetrable, so the word makes no difference to them. They are like the surface of a pathway, hostile and resistant to the potential of the seed that falls upon it. There is no yield for the farmer.
There are those who in hearing the word of life are initially enthusiastic and receptive but when adversity comes, wilt and wither away. Still no yield for the farmer.
There are yet others who embrace the word of life with rejoicing, but as time unfolds different worries or concerns or priorities rise up and squeeze out the vitality of faithful and trusting growth in the farmer’s generous good will. The potential of yield becomes a disappointing loss.
But the farmer is not discouraged as there are those who do hear the word of life, who do have eyes to perceive the presence of Jesus as the calling card of divine love and forgiveness in the world, and embrace this presence in their lives. Here is fertile, fruitful soil where the seed’s potential can find a home in which to dwell. In the mystery of growth, the farmer’s sowing is transformed into an abundant, fruitful harvest: the fruit of lovingkindness and mercy upon the face of the earth; the fruit of the Spirit in the gifts of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control; the fruit of forgiveness, repentance and grace.
Such a farmer Jesus speaks about this story, in this parable. Here is a farmer who is generous and extravagant, who doesn’t count the cost of his sowing. Here is a farmer who graciously and willingly thrusts the life-bearing seed into the world, all in divine hope that the seed will find receptive, fertile ground in which to flourish. This farmer is the consummate risk-taker, allowing the seed that is so precious and valuable to Him, to fall where it may, so that there might always be hope in new life that would lead to a harvest of rejoicing. Here is a farmer who also never gives up. Knowing full well that hard earth, rocky places, and thorns and weeds are part and parcel of the soil of this earth, this farmer goes ahead and sows anyways. This farmer is confident that fertile ground will always be found, even in unexpected places.
As those who gather around Jesus, we all have our favourite stories of Jesus that teach us God’s way with us; stories that speak to us of God’s faithful and tender love for us, stories that redeem us from the pit of dark places and deliver us to cool pastures and refreshing waters; stories that renew our courage, our hope, our confidence…our faith…as we live day by day in a less than perfect world. By now you’ve probably guessed it…this story of the farmer and the seed is among my favourites of Jesus. It has been “a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” in my life.
I first heard it as a child…simply as a story Jesus told of a farmer who plants seed; that some seed is lost but some seed grows into strong plants that bring the farmer much joy. I taught this story as a teenager to other children in Sunday School, telling them that the seed was the word of God’s love and that we needed to pay attention to this love so we could be like those plants that grew in the good soil. As a young adult in my training in Christian Education we were asked to draw a bible story. This is the one I selected… birds I could draw; rocks I could draw; nasty thorns I could draw; even somewhat straight rows I could draw…but the farmer remained illusive…always beyond my hand. And in the years since, amid the challenges and rigours of ministry this story has on many occasions brought my heart and life comfort, perspective, renewed hope and re-commitment for the task at hand…sharing the love of Jesus with others in word and in deed; participating in the work of the farmer who sows more generously than I can ever dare to imagine!
As the Church, we gather around Jesus, who is the word of life. In Jesus’ living, in his dying, in his rising again in resurrection power, we come to learn of God’s gracious love for us, of God’s faithfulness and tender compassion in all that we face in the unfolding of this earthly, human journey of ours. The pages of the Bible teach us to heed what is significant and meaningful for our lives as the sons and daughters of God. The gospels point us to the One who comes from God as the living word of abundant life. It is Jesus, the Christ who calls us to “come, follow him” and in following him to serve the world that God loves so very deeply.
This day, and in the days ahead, may we always heed the words “Listen up” and offer ears to hear the One who speaks to us in gracious mercy and tender love, so that the farmer may rejoice in the harvest!
To God be all glory, honour and praise, now and forever. Amen.
Rev. Marion Barclay MacKay
Minister, retiring October 31, 2020.