Gospel of Mark — Week 4

Monday, October 29

Read: Mark 4:1-9

Consider: Have you ever noticed that sometimes the biggest battles of childhood—both from the child’s perspective and the parents’—take place at the dinner table? Parents want their kids to eat. Kids don’t always want to. And the harder the parent tries to force the issue, the more that little dynamo resists. It usually starts out simple enough. The parents don’t want to sound too demanding, so they lovingly say, “Remember, you can’t have dessert until you finish what’s on your plate.” Then when the little one takes a stand, it progresses to “You can’t get down from the table until you’re finished.” And then, well, sometimes it gets ugly. Parents have tried bribing, threatening, coercing, taking privileges away and bursting into tears. But you just can’t win. So, by the time a second child comes along, most parents have mastered the issue. There is only one solution. You’ve got to figure out how to avoid it—how not to get into that battle in the first place. You cannot force a child to eat.

Jesus knew that. He didn’t battle, threaten or bribe us. He simply offered us the bread of life. And that is why sometimes his teachings would end with the simple statement, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear” (Mark 4:9).

Those words are simple, but powerful, especially as they follow the story of the farmer who was scattering seed. In this parable Jesus didn’t say much at all about the seed. He later called it “the word” and spoke on the assumption of its validity and its power to produce crops (4:14). But, what the parable revolves around is the soil types—the ground on which the seed fell or was planted.

This is a call for reflection and self-examination. It prompts us to ask what kind of soil we are. Don’t look at this parable simply in terms of whether you responded to Christ’s call at some point in your life. Soil can change. Heat, cold or lack of rain can change the potential for growth in any field, including the fields of our lives. So, ask the Lord if your soil is fertile for what he wants to plant in your life. Then, seek his guidance and direction for maintaining a garden where his work brings forth results. He won’t force it on you. You make the decision to be receptive.

Ask him what you can do to have ears that hear. He’s speaking. You don’t want to miss a word.

Pray: “Lord, there are rocks and thorns all over the place. And at times the scorching sun saps my energy. Problems, disappointment, sorrow and fatigue are real. Thank you for understanding that. Thank you for your consistent work in my life. Through all of it, help me today to have ears that hear. And show me the kind of mind-set I need every day to listen to your voice.”

 

Tuesday, October 30

Read: Matthew 13:10-17

Consider: Between Jesus’ story about the farmer scattering seed (which we read yesterday) and his explanation of the meaning of that parable (which we’ll read tomorrow), Jesus said some puzzling things. They’re confusing, and often, troubling. While we find this parable in Matthew, Mark and Luke, we read it today from Matthew because there Jesus went into more detail about why he spoke in parables.

His words trouble some of us because it sounds like Jesus was saying that his message is not for everyone—that it is hidden to most and available to only a few. That was, in fact, what he was saying. But the reason this is true is not what first comes to our minds. Jesus was not trying to keep people from the kingdom. That was never his intent. But he was telling us that many will “be ever hearing but never understanding …ever seeing but never perceiving” (13:14 quoting Isaiah 6:9-10). And he told us why—because the “heart has become calloused” (13:15).

Jesus came to reveal the Father to us. Jesus’ incarnation—his entering into our humanity—brought God to the place where we could see him, hear him and touch him (1 John 1:1-4). That was and is his desire. But it’s possible to see and not really see. It’s possible to hear and not really hear.

What we see is up to us. The more we keep our soil fertile—the more we remain humble and teachable before God—the more his words will bring life to us. We’ll not only hear them with our ears, we’ll live them with our lives. Then, in us, Jesus’ words ring true…

“Whoever has will be given more, and they will have in abundance.” (13:12)

Pray: “Lord, you have given me so much. I don’t ask for abundance in material possessions, but I do ask for abundance in my relationship with you. You’ve told me to listen. Now teach me. Teach me how to have ears that hear you every day. Teach me how to open my eyes to see you in every aspect of my life. Teach me how to love.”

 

Wednesday, October 31

Read: Mark 4:13-20

Consider: As we try to see ourselves in this parable—as we try to be honest about the condition of our soil—I’m guessing many of us identify with the situation described as the “seed planted among thorns.” Jesus seemed to be describing twenty-first century living when he named those “thorns” as…

“…the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things…” (4:19)

Worries can consume us. We can be deceived into thinking that our security lies in our jobs, our pensions or our home equity. And, because deep down we know we can’t depend on those things, we’re given to worry and anxiety.

But Jesus not only warned about the deceitfulness of that security, he also warned against the distractions that can take us off course. Our lives are filled with so many options that we are easily distracted by pursuing other things.

We begin to drown in schedules, possessions and debt. And so, as Jesus so descriptively said it, the word is “choked” and becomes “unfruitful.”

The fruit God wants our lives to yield is “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). We don’t want a bunch of thorns choking off the very life that God has for us.

And so, we have tough decisions to make. What will we say “yes” to, and what will we say “no” to? What changes need to be made? Where do we begin in simplifying our lives by rooting out the thorns that are entangling us?

We do it a step at a time, a day at a time. We learn to breathe and listen. And we choose to obey.

Pray: “Lord, you don’t want me to be overwhelmed with life. And honestly, it can be overwhelming when I think about the changes I should make. So rather than embracing that feeling, I simply come to you for this day. Teach me how to listen. Show me how to obey. May the course of my life be determined by the many small steps of obedience that I choose to take. Lead me in such a way that the soil of my life will be ever-more, increasingly fertile for your work in me.”

 

Thursday, November 1

Read: Mark 4:26-29

Consider: Jesus’ parables are always intriguing. And it’s not by accident that they are sometimes difficult to understand. That was often his intent. He chose to bring the truth in a manner that would cause us to wrestle and struggle to comprehend and embrace his words. And sometimes he didn’t even intend for everyone to understand, because the hard of heart, who would not recognize the Messiah, certainly could not comprehend his words.

So, in reading the parables we must sometimes look for clues. Was Jesus referring to something those people understood, but we might miss? That’s the case in today’s reading.

Most of the people Jesus addressed were familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures—what we call the Old Testament. So, when Jesus made reference to those scriptures, they would try to ascertain how Jesus was interpreting them. Often, he was telling the people the reality that the prophets foretold. The Christ—the Messiah—had arrived.

Today we read Jesus’ simple account of a seed growing to full maturity. Jesus pointed out that the farmer “does not know how” it happens. It’s going on right under his nose (or, at least, out in his field) all by itself. Then Jesus said…

“As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.” (4:29)

I wonder how many of his listeners recognized his reference to Joel 3:18, where the prophet said, “Swing the sickle, for the harvest is ripe.” That passage from Joel describes the judging of the nations and the liberation of God’s people.

Jesus was telling them that judgement was coming. But the judgement Jesus spoke about would be much different than what they had always expected. Jesus himself would take the judgement on his shoulders and in his body. The liberation of God’s people would be offered to everyone, but not on the basis of their righteousness. As Paul would later say it…

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Pray: “Lord, thank you that you came, not to destroy us, but to destroy that which destroys us. Thank you that you judge the evil in us while liberating us from our sins. Thank you for the freedom you offered to me and gave to me.”

 

Friday, November 2

Read: Mark 4:26-29

Consider: As we saw yesterday, Jesus told a simple story about a seed that is planted, grows on its own, imperceptibly reaches maturity and is then harvested. It feels like a rather ordinary story with nothing to make it compelling. But he began this short parable by reminding us that “This is what the kingdom of God is like” (4:26).

Jesus was speaking about the judgment of evil and the liberation of God’s people—liberation offered to everyone. As we saw yesterday, this judgement was taken by Christ to free us. And he was assuring us that this kingdom is advancing.

God is always working. Sometimes his work is obvious. Often it is not. Behind the scenes, in the shadows, gradually and imperceptibly God is making all things new. We must have eyes that see.

And what God is doing in the cosmos he is also doing in you and in me. Daily he is drawing us to himself, teaching us, revealing himself to us and guiding us. But sometimes we’re like the farmer who seems to be largely unaware that anything is happening.

That is why we ask God to open our eyes and unstop our ears. We’re not willfully ignoring him, but life often dulls our spiritual senses. As we spend time with him and try to clear the clutter from our minds, we’ll begin to see how his love is operational in our lives every day. You are growing. Whether or not you can see it, it is happening right now.

Pray: “Lord, thank you for your active love in my life today. Help me to recognize you everywhere—in nature, in those who are created in your image, in beauty and in your whispers to my spirit. Thank you that you have a journey for me and thank you that I never walk it alone.”

 

Saturday, November 3

Read: Mark 4:30-34

Consider: The parable of the mustard seed is familiar to many of us. (It appears in three of the gospels.) It helps us gain a new perspective of the kingdom of heaven on earth. What seems small and imperceptible is actually the advancing work of the One who created all things. He is “over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:6) and working among us.

What I love about Mark’s account of this teaching is his comment that follows it.

“With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand.” (4:33)

We have to remember that our understanding of Christ and his way is an ongoing journey. We have so much to learn, but he is patient with us. He gives us as much as we can understand. He teaches us, mentors us and then leads us to new levels of understanding.

Take this one parable as an example. Over time the Holy Spirit can open your understanding of how God is working in you and through you. You can see, in small ways, the mustard seed growing before your eyes. Then he can expand your vision and you’ll comprehend new avenues that he is opening and expanding in your spirit and in your actions. These are those thrilling moments in life when we see God in ways we’ve never seen him before.

The next verse is exciting. Mark said…

“He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.” (4:34)

If we sit long enough with him, he’ll “explain” it—he’ll reveal himself—to us.

Pray: “Lord, teach me how to quiet my heart, how to slow my racing mind, and how to listen to you. Thank you for your patience as I learn how to learn from you.”