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Thursday, January 24, 2013
Today’s Reading | Mark 4:1–20
Again he began to teach beside the sea. Such a very large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the sea and sat there, while the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. He began to teach them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.” And he said, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”
When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. 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; in order that
‘they may indeed look, but not perceive,
and may indeed listen, but not understand;
so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.’ ”
And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand all the parables? The sower sows the word. These are the ones on the path where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: when they hear the word, they immediately receive it with joy. But they have no root, and endure only for a while; then, when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. And others are those sown among the thorns: these are the ones who hear the word, but the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it yields nothing. And these are the ones sown on the good soil: they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.” (NRSV)
English academic, author, and literary critic Frank Kermode offers an interesting reading of this all-too-familiar parable in his study of Mark’s Gospel, entitled “The Genesis of Secrecy.”
Kermode focuses on the paradoxical statements of Jesus about hearers “who may indeed look, but not perceive; may indeed listen, but not understand” (paraphrasing the prophet Isaiah) and how Jesus contrasts this to the disciples who have been “given the secret,” thus making them the ultimate insiders in regard to understanding the meaning of the kingdom of God.
Ironically, Kermode points out, Jesus then has to explain the meaning of the parable to the very same disciples, so that in reality they are just as much outsiders as anyone else.
The concept of the outsider who is welcomed “in” by Jesus is fundamental to the gospel narratives (tax-collectors, prostitutes, lepers, Samaritans, mentally and physically ill people), and Kermode helps us think about the obverse of that—the seeming “insider” who is not in reality living the life of the kingdom of God, like the priest and Levite in the parable of the caring Samaritan.
What chance do any of us have if even Jesus’ disciples do not measure up?
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
that saved a wretch like me.
(Prayer text from the hymn by John Newton)
Reflection written by Calum I. MacLeod, Executive Associate Pastor and Head of Staff
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