Mark 4:1-34

Again he [Jesus] began to teach beside the lake. Such a very large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the lake and sat there, while the whole crowd was beside the lake 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.’
He said to them, ‘Is a lamp brought in to be put under the bushel basket, or under the bed, and not on the lampstand? For there is nothing hidden, except to be disclosed; nor is anything secret, except to come to light. Let anyone with ears to hear listen!’ And he said to them, ‘Pay attention to what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you. For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.’
He also said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.’
He also said, ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.’
With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
Whenever I’m asked to reflect on Jesus’ parables, I recall the one about two recent seminary graduates, John and Andy, who embarked on a cross-country journey to better understand God’s work and the meaning of life. They took with them their best friend, Bill, who was a college drop-out and a former drug addict who’s now sober and helping his dad’s business. John and Andy thought bringing Bill along would be helpful for their personal growth and Bill agreed to tag along. During the trip, John and Andy always made long, drawn out reflections on everything they saw. When they saw kids lying under the bridge, they talked about poverty. When they saw kids ordering many plates of expensive desserts, they talked about the sin of gluttony. When they saw wild dogs running, they talked about freedom. When they saw dogs being walked by their owners, they talked about captivity. All the while, Bill only observed and stayed quiet, occasionally playing with his phone. After walking dozens of miles, they reached a mountainous region where they decided to camp for the night. They built a tent, reflected on their journey so far, and eventually went to sleep. In the middle of the night, Bill suddenly woke up and woke John and Andy up as well. “Look up, tell me what you see,” asked Bill. Both John and Andy were immediately amazed at what they saw; beautiful formations of uncountable stars in the sky. They started telling each other and Bill about the vastness and sheer wonder of God’s creation. After speaking for awhile, they finally asked Bill what he was thinking about the majestic sky. “You idiots, this means our tent’s been stolen.”
Jesus liked to teach using parables, perhaps because they allow for a variety of interpretations. There is a freedom in how you want to understand the different parts of a parable. Some people can interpret them literally, others more abstractly. Our two seminary friends liked to ponder things a little more abstractly, thinking of objects as more of symbols instead of mere objects. Their good friend, on the other hand, helped them to see the literalness of objects…or lack thereof as was the case. God’s beautiful, starry night can spark the imagination but it can also reveal vulnerability and insignificance. Two ways to interpret the same objects or situation. We know Jesus is all about freedom; freedom of thought and freedom of action. He disapproves of anything that hinders freedom so it’s only fitting that he’d teach using parables, a very freeing form of teaching.
Just take our parable for today as an example. On the one hand, it’s a story about a sower who scatters his seed in various places, some better than others. We hear it and think, “He should be a little more careful about where he throws his seed. Doesn’t he want his seed to grow into a plant?” But that isn’t how Jesus wants us to think about it. He wants us to think about our responsibility of being the good soil for the seed. Let the sower scatter his seeds however way he wants. Indeed, the sower is free to do with the seed however way he sees fit. We aren’t the sower, God is. We are the soil. It isn’t our place to criticize or judge the sower for how he scatters the seed. Perhaps his haphazard scattering reflects a generosity and abundance. God has an unending supply of seeds, what does He care about where they land? Jesus helps redirect our thinking to the part of the parable that does apply to us–the soil.
God’s blessings are plentiful and are scattered everywhere. Why would we want them any other way?! We ought to be grateful that his blessings are so abundant and vastly shared. More than that, we ought to prepare ourselves to receive his many blessings. God’s blessings may fall on us but unless we’re prepared to receive them they never bear fruit. Like seeds, God’s blessings are meant to bear fruit. Now then, how do we prepare ourselves to receive his blessings? First, by reflecting on how God has blessed others. A great source for such reflection is the Bible. God blessed many characters in the Bible. God blessed the entire people of Israel all throughout the Bible. God’s goodness and mercy is seen all throughout the Bible so dwelling in the witness of the Bible is a great way to start preparing ourselves to receive his blessings. Next, we need to ask for God’s blessings through prayer. We need to acknowledge our need for his blessings and humbly ask him for them. God knows what we need but He still likes to hear our requests. If anything, our asking helps focus our attention on what we need. Invariably God has a specific blessings to meet a specific need. Next, we need to be a blessing to those around us in order to receive his blessings. Jesus clearly states that we are to love God above all else and love our neighbors as he loves us. In being a blessing, we actually open ourselves to being blessed by others and God. All three steps–reflecting on the Biblical witness, asking for God’s blessings, and being a blessing to those around us–are sure ways to prepare ourselves to receive God’s individualized blessings.
I like people like Bill in that opening joke because their frankness can be refreshing. Jesus taught using parables to reflect his priority on freedom. But in the end, they were lessons to help ensure one thing–belief. Jesus wants us to believe in him and his love and mercy and grace. Jesus reflected on the Biblical witness. Jesus continually asked for the Father’s blessings. Jesus always works to be a blessing to others. We just need to believe in him and follow him and we will be the good soil that the parable asks us to be. It’s just that simple! There is frank simplicity in today’s parable–believe in Jesus! Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.” (10:9-10) There is freedom in Jesus. There is peace and joy in Jesus. Jesus is salvation. Jesus’ parables teach us these simple truths. Let us give thanks for faith that leads us to belief. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.