Mark and the mysterious kingdom of God

Romanian icon of Parable of Sower and Seeds

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Mark’s gospel starts off quickly with the story moving in rapid succession from one event to another including many healing miracles and to short teaching moments.

However, in chapter 4:1-34, there is a longer set of teaching beginning with the Parable of the Sower. Interestingly, the brisk pace set by chapters 1-3 is now contrasted by parables of what can be said to be about “slow” and “small” things: sower/seeds (4:1-9, 13-20), light under a basket (4:21-25), growing seed (4:26-29), and mustard seed (4:30-32). All of these parables come under the category of Jesus explaining to them the kingdom of God, Mark 4:11, To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God.

The disciples find all of these things hard to understand. This theme of the disciples “not getting it” will be a re-occurent one in the Gospel of Mark. One possible reason for them “not getting it” was that these things were outside of their expectations. Perhaps they were looking for a military installed kingdom to throw off the Roman rulers and to restore the nation of Israel to its previous glory. Thus, these stories of “small and slow things” would seem a bit disappointing. The ways of the kingdom of God are not our ways. The timetable of the kingdom of God is not our timetable.

Though the disciples do not understand, they do have hope. See Mark 4:10, But when He was alone, those around Him with the twelve asked Him about the parable and Mark 4:34, And when they were alone, He explained all things to His disciples.

We can sit passively having the teachings of Jesus go in one ear and out the other. That is not the posture of a disciple. The movement of discipleship, of being a follower, of being a learner is spending time with him. It is wrestling with what he has said and did.

For the disciples, they could be with Jesus and walk the same dusty road and ask him questions. How about us today?

Here are perhaps four ways:

  1. consider His teachings – individually in personal study and in gatherings with others – chew it over, talk it over, pray through it, seek to make sense of it, and put it into practice.
  2. yield to the Holy Spirit – the Spirit assures us we are in Christ, shows us truth, guides us to live rightly, convicts us when we go astray, prompts us in prayer, empowers us to serve others, etc.
  3. live together in community – the church is called the body of Christ; since Jesus commands us to love one another, how do we put that into practice without being in contact with one another? No better way to experience the mind of Christ and be the body of Christ then when we find practical ways to live together as a community of faith living and working together to love people as Jesus did.
  4. partake in baptism and the Lord’s supper – the elements of water (baptism) and bread/wine (Lord’s supper) are visible symbols of the invisible grace God has bestowed upon us. We all can probably think of occasions when we sensed the presence of God in these simple but powerful, mysterious, and meaningful sacraments. How moving it is to remember what Christ did? How powerful it is to step into the waters of baptism and to witness others do the same? Indeed, these things could become mere “ritual” but clearly Jesus instituted these for our benefit. When we witness and partake in baptism and communion, the potential is there to be reminded of the graciousness of God and majesty of what Christ has done.

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