Weekly Bible Reflection
Mark's Alternative Economy
First Sunday after Trinity
Text: Mark 4. 26-34 . "The Mystery of Growth "
Begin by using the Bible Study method as outlined
Share you experiences of tending a garden or allotment, even a window-box, where you or family members have grown plants from seed? How much loving care did you lavish on them? How well did the plants do?
A Window on the Text
Jesus uses ‘farming’ parables in his teaching about the Kingdom of God, to relate his message to the experience of his hearers, people whose lives are subject to disorder and oppression. After he had told the crowds on the lakeside the parable of the sower (see the earlier part of Chapter 4) he then had to explain it to his disciples.
In today’s reading (vv 26-34) Jesus continues, with yet another important factor. In nature, not only does seed have to be sown and the soil prepared, but there is the hidden power of God’s grace at work over which we have no control. Germination of a seed and its unseen growth were a mystery which takes place quite apart from human activity.
In the natural world grace and nature are united. The same is true of the word of God. Although response to the gospel is often disappointing (despite faithful ‘sowing’ and preparation of the ‘soil’) Jesus reminds his disciples that the way God works in people’s lives is a mystery of God’s grace independent of anything we may do. Scattered seed growing without the farmer’s knowledge highlights the need for patience and commitment. The farmer sows, God brings the harvest.
The parable of the mustard seed (vv 30-33) is an encouragement not to be put off either by appearances or by the magnitude of the task. On the face of it, the tiny band of Jesus’ followers was no match for the power of the Jewish establishment in Jerusalem, or the might of Imperial Rome. In front of the disciples was an apparently hopeless task. Yet just as the mustard seed, one of the smallest of seeds, grows into a huge tree at maturity, so too the final triumph of the Kingdom of God is assured, a kingdom which encompasses all dimensions of life - social, political, economic as well as religious.
Mark encourages his community to move ahead with an unshakeable faith and confidence in the final outcome (see also Romans 8.28ff, Philippians 2.9-11). Small green shoots today are the promise of the harvest tomorrow. Mark writes for fragile communities encouraging them to hold fast to Jesus’ vision of a kingdom that will come in God’s time despite all evidence to the contrary.
Responding as a community
- Why do some people respond to the word of Jesus and others don’t? Is it a matter of the faithful proclamation of the word of Christ by his followers or does it depend more on the openness of those addressed? Should we expect ‘success’ for our efforts?
- What work is expected of us in bringing about God’s kingdom? What work is exclusively God’s? In what ways do we sometimes try to do the work that only God can do?
- How important is the ‘preparation of the soil’ in evangelism? Is there anything more that might be an important factor affecting the outcome?
- Given that Jesus refused to explain his parables in public but disclosed the meaning to his disciples in private, are there times when it is better to leave people wondering than providing detailed explanations? How might we know when to explain and when to keep silent?
- Say the Lord’s Prayer together, repeating the words ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven’;
- In silence (up to five minutes) reflect on the small signs of new growth, in individuals, in situations, in struggles and achievements, however small; then repeat again the words ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven’; silence
- Name these signs of the extension of God’s Kingdom – silence then repeat the words ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven".
- See Ched Myers, Binding the Strong Man - A political reading of Mark’s story of Jesus, Orbis books Maryknoll USA (1997) chapter 5: “Listen!” The First Sermon on Revolutionary Patience (Mark 4:1-36):
‘The famous parables chapter is the first of Jesus’ two extended sermons in Mark’s Gospel. Drawing upon images of the land and the hardened wisdom pf peasant life, this sermon offers hope in the face of overwhelming odds, and introduces the discourse of revolutionary paradox into the story.’ (p.169)
The harvest imagery is based on the politicisation of Joel 3.10 that the disciples’ task is to ‘ tend to the sowing’ and not try to force the outcome of revolutionary justice by taking up arms. The point of harvest is that Yahweh’s judgement upon the powers and their system will certainly come. The fatalist and determinist says, ‘nothing will change; just look at what is happening in the world. Jesus tries to instil courage in the small ands fragile discipleship community for its struggle against the entrenched powers. The overthrowing of ‘Rome’ through this faithful community is exactly what for Mark is the expected future.
- For further study material and questions see http://www.baylor.edu/christianethics/ParablesStudyGuide3.pdf
- See also James Edwards article ‘Hearing is believing’ to be found at http://www.baylor.edu/christianethics/ParablesArticleEdwards.pdf. Edwards says, ‘Parables cannot be understood by standing outside them and peering in. They can only be understood by getting out of our seats and entering into the drama.’
Mark's Alternative Economy - Discussion