A Parable About Seeds?

blindmen3Four different groups. Four different reactions. Four blind men describing the elephant in the room.

But, at this point in Mark, the story takes a twist. It doesn’t end with blind men describing the elephant. In Mark, the elephant describes the blind men.

As the fourth chapter opens, Mark recounts one of Jesus’ parables: the one about the farmer and his seed. Perhaps it is accidental that the parable shows up at this particular juncture. Maybe Mark loved this parable and simply wanted to make room for it at some point in his Gospel.

But I don’t think so. The parable is here for a reason. It is the narrative icing on the cake of Chapter Three. It completes the stories of people judging Jesus. It tells us what Jesus’ thinks about them.

“Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.”

Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” (Mark 4:3-9)

Notice there are four kinds of soil mentioned in this parable. A seed (the same seed!) is scattered on every type of soil. The soil reacts differently to the seed, depending on its nature. In the end, what soil does with seed has much more to do with the nature of the soil than with the seed itself.

Are you listening?

“There is soil,” says Jesus, in the language of the parable, “that is hard, resistant, impervious to the seed. The seed cannot penetrate. Birds steal the seed. The seed just bounces off and is unproductive.”

“There is a kind of soil,” says Jesus wistfully, “that is quick to give the seed a home. It welcomes the seed and nourishes its growth. But there are rocks below the surface. The soil is shallow. There is no place for the seed to set down roots. When things get hot, the soil dries up and the seed dies.”

“There is a soil,” says Jesus the Seed, “that would make an ideal home for the seed. Except that other plants are already living there, competing with the seed. Roots run deep. Plants grow up. Just when the seed can make a difference, the thorns and thistles, the briars and weeds, choke out the seed so no grain is produced.”

“Only some seed,” says Jesus fondly, looking at the Twelve, “is able to accept the seed, nurture it, let it grow, and permit it to bear a crop. But when the seed falls in that kind of soil,” Jesus smiles, “what a crop it produces!