Mark 4. Kingdom Parables. “The reign of God is like… a sower who went out to sow….”
So Jesus, what is all this parable talking you’re doing? ask the disciples. Well, says Jesus, this parable is the parable story, the way you understand all parables is to get hold of this one.
You see, Jesus continues, I speak in parables so that the outsiders will see without perceiving, hear without listening, so that they might not turn and be forgiven!
As Jesus goes on to explain the parable, he speaks of the seed as the sown word. Those who hear can have the word snatched from them before it takes root, they can have the word take root and be choked or scorched, or they can bear fruit 30, 60, or even 100 fold.
So what’s that fruit? Is it a life of good works? Is it other people being drawn into the kingdom?
Wait! Don’t answer yet.
It seems that Mark wants us to hold this episode in mind later. When we see the same sort of absurd multiplication–in the feeding stories.
Give them something to eat! Jesus says. Um… Jesus? 5,000 people? Really?
Later, after its all said and done, they are terrified to meet Jesus on the water because they didn’t understand about the loaves, but their heart was hardened.
Just to make sure they’ve learned that there is no lack in the economy of the kingdom, Jesus sends them on a parallel mission in Gentile country: ok, guys, dish up lunch. Um… Jesus? 4,000 people? Really?
As if to finally bring home their failure to grasp the economy of the kingdom, another boat ride also doesn’t go so well: Gosh, we forgot to bring bread with us, what are we going to do?
Jesus seems to think they’re missing something. They’re the insiders, right? The mystery of the kingdom is given to them, right? They’ve participated in two miraculous feedings, right?
“When you fed 5,000 with 5 loaves, how’d that work out for you? When you fed 4,000 with a bit more, how’d that turn out? Having eyes do you not see? Having ears do you not hear?”
The purpose of parables–to blind and deafen, has inexplicably worked itself on the disciples as they participated in the lived parables of feeding the 5,000 and 4,000. The insiders have become outsiders, misunderstanding even as they themselves participated in the advent of the reign of God.
They have beheld the coming kingdom of God: one seed may not have literally broken out to yield a 100-fold harvest–but one loaf has fed 1,000 people. The kingdom of God has come near.
So what sort of fruit are we looking for? What sort of kingdom do we serve? A kingdom in which there is no economy of lack: not a stingy kingdom with food only for those who were insiders (Jews) to the exclusion of outsiders (Gentiles). Not a kingdom of lack where we need to wring our hands over forgotten meals.
In this economy, there is plenty of bread even for the dogs to fill themselves on the crumbs from the children’s table–there’s bread all over the place.
I too often read Mark 4 as referring to “Spiritual” things, and I think there’s something to that. But if our gospel is worth anything, then the reality of life in this world must reflect and embody that kingdom fullness as well.
To a world whose entire economy is based on the dual equations of a zero-sum-game coupled with lack and scarcity, we proclaim that the reign of God comes to make his blessings known far as the curse is found.
And, we are made aware, by the disciples, of the difficulty of believing that the advent of Jesus really makes this difference. They, the sight-given insiders, are blind. They, the insight-given insiders, are deaf. They cannot see the abundance that comes–not only despite lack, but from lack itself.
A single seed becomes a plentiful harvest.
A single loaf becomes a banquet.
A single death becomes cosmic redemption.