One of Mark’s unique fragments

If as is generally believed Mark’s was the first Gospel to be written, then it is fairly obvious that both Matthew and Luke made full use of Mark’s narrative. Actually, between them they used nearly every last crumb of Mark’s Gospel – except for these few snippets: the title (Mark 1:1); a couple of two-stage miracles (Mark 8:22-26; 9:21-24, 26-27); and a parable that virtually repeats the strap line of the one about the sower  – 

‘And [Jesus] said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows, he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come”’ (Mark 4:26-29). 

[] Mark recorded three parables in sequence in chapter Mark 4:0 of his Gospel:

  • the various outcomes of the sower’s seed (Mark 4:1-20),
  • our text about the success of scattered seed (Mark 4:26-29), and
  • the tiny mustard seed’s luxuriant growth into a bush with nesting birds (Mark 4:30-33).

So, why did Mark tell that unique parable and Matthew and Luke ignore it?

[] Luke limited himself to the parable of the sower (Luke 8:4-15). But he added a metaphor of Jesus [that Mark had also inserted just ahead of our text] – about not hiding a lighted lamp (verses Luke 16-18). The reason for its inclusion by both evangelists seems obvious from the punch line here in Luke:

‘Take care then how you hear (verse Luke 16:18)

because, of course,  the various types of soil encountered by the sower’s seed represent different kinds of hearing the message of God’s kingdom (verses Mark 16:8,10,12,13,14,15,21).

[] Matthew, by contrast, records a whole raft of seven parables, starting with the sower (Matthew 13:1-58); the second one seems to be his choice of replacement for Mark’s simple tale of the successful seed – namely, the parable of the weeds. Not only has good seed been sown by the Son of Man across the field of the world, but an enemy has also sown weeds among the nations; and both kinds of seed have found responsive listeners. Here Jesus was advocating worldwide freedom of religion throughout this present age (in contrast say to obligatory sharia law in some Muslim nations). Only at the ultimate harvest at the end of this gospel age will each soul be judged to be either ‘wheat’ or ‘weed’.

[] The lessons of Mark 4:1-40

  (1) The message of Jesus the Sower is variously received (Mark 4:1-20).

  (2) His followers must let our testimony shine forth (Mark 4:21-25).

  (3) What a relief to know that we are not responsible for how hearers respond (Mark 4:26-29).

  (4) The message, having life in it, will flourish exponentially in responsive soil (Mark 4:30-34).

  (5) Since Jesus flowed with the rhythms of life (‘he sleeps and rises night and day’, Mark 4:27),    we too should remain in heart peace on any stormy voyage with him aboard; but in emergency we can call upon the Lord to calm the storm (Mark 4:35-41).

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