Today’s text dwells in the teaching of Jesus about the Kingdom of God via parables. A parable is an analogy in that the story is about one thing, but actually is talking about something else. They usually begin with Jesus saying “the kingdom of God is like…” He wasn’t the only one to use them in his teaching, but Jesus sure was good at it.
All of these parables are about agriculture and farming: a man who plants seed in his garden, a man whose garden grows in the day and the night, and a mustard seed. But Jesus isn’t teaching the crowds (and us) about better farming techniques.
It’s only by analogy that Jesus can reveal the mystery of how God is present in the world. It’s not something that can be directly described. It’s not a secret, but knowledge that is elusive. Language is inadequate to reveal the mystery of God’s presence and purpose. You cannot get what God is about simply by interpreting the words. You have to get “got” by the parable story within the story.
The first words that Jesus speaks in Mark are in 1:15 ““Time’s up! God’s kingdom is here. Change your life and believe the Message.” But while it seems clear it’s also elusive. People had been looking to the horizon, waiting, hoping ardently for God’s deliverance from their troubles of imperial occupation, economic inequality, and social change. They were wondering when and if God would ever show up. For Mark, it’s clear. But we – like the crowds of people listening to the parables – are looking to discern God’s presence and to learn to walk in God’s ways.
The parables point to the limits of human comprehension and abilities to discern the work of God in the world. We struggle with parables and such allegorical language because it’s not how we talk and teach. We want complex subjects to be explained to us. Biblical scholars tell us that the parables seek to disclose the mystery, to invite us and empower us to participate in the presence, purpose and person of God.
Jesus speaks of the presence of God as a crazy farmer who throws seed everywhere, trusting it will grow in the daylight and the nighttime, hoping it’ll grow vigorously like the most invasive weed. The parables are a double disclosure. As they open our sight to grapple with the message of God, we ourselves are opened up to the mysterious presence of God in and among us. It’s God working through the words – the words that make us aware of our inability to comprehend and which also call us to participate in God’s dominion here and now.
Questions for the practice of Examen & Contemplation
- Which of the parables in today’s reading most grabs you?
- What is the parable saying? What it is literally about? How is it clear?
- How is it confusing or inefficient?
- What is it disclosing? About God? About you? about us?
- How or where have you experienced the mystery revealed in the parable in your own life? How do you testify and “sow” that seed in your lifestyle?
Download the PDF Study Sheet we’ll use in our discussion class at @CAPCOakland HERE.