Mark 4:31

Perhaps by the growth of a mustard seed. This seed, when sown in the ground, though it is smaller than all other seeds,

consider the inconceivable
overlooked at every turn

debate the undebateable
which was never defined

ponder weak and weary
every inconsequential event

wake up to interpret a nightmare
filled with slippery dream logic

this is our natural starting place
a drop of water and outward glance

we have no other beginning point
than a minute detail to be extended

The smallness of a mustard seed (1-2 millimeters) isn’t all that small compared to a human seed (egg, 0.1 mm; sperm, 0.05 mm). Of course this is not something known by Jesus (if you want to get pious, Jesus knew but no one else did so he didn’t use this later information, but this sort of rationalization is not helpful).

The ratio of growth of a mustard seed to over 12 feet is about 250 times. That of humans to 6 feet is more than an increase of 18,000 times.

This is simply a reminder to mind what is being compared to what. This is particularly important in times when one party controls another, whether that is Empire to subjects or Patriarchy to women.

Another more modern example is the famous equation E=mc2. That squaring of the speed of light multiplies even the teensiest amount of fissionable material by 8.98755179 × 1016 m2 / s2 or, shifted to the Imperial system, 448,900,000,000,000,000 mph. Different people have a different reference or comparison model. At any rate, in Einstein’s formula we are dealing with growth numbers beyond our understanding.

Exponential growth might also be translated in units of humility (if we had a common referent) or, something we are more familiar with, rating our sense of weakness in a dangerous wilderness that will test us until we have forgotten our ability to retreat deeper into wilderness and respond helpfully to any test.

Any way this is looked at, we continue in the realm of mystery as definitions of seeds and growth and parable and a presence of G*D continue to come back empty. Life is beyond definition. Yet, slowly and surely, we poke away at it with one image and then another.

Mark 4:30

Jesus also said,  “To what can we liken the kingdom of God? By what can we illustrate it?

from now ‘til our dying day
we will wrestle to make clear
the best we can imagine
and apply it in degraded settings

we will reclaim old words
and stories worn out through usage
expected comfortable safe
every hopeful inspiration strikes twice

we will make up new words
and stories still finding a plot line
surprising edgy brave
shaping today into tomorrow’s better

we will sit in silence without words
and stories waiting for another time
frustrated disappointed hopeful
already calling tomorrow out of today

we sing praise for the incomplete
which carries us together along
as we were are not and ever will be
mining common good out of old clay

How can we describe a presence of G*D when we already know how difficult it is to describe the presence of a human partner, a dear one? The best we can do is pile image upon image rather than pare our description down to one characteristic.

If we were following Mark through a form of drama, Swanson’s techniques would be helpful:

The task of playing a mass of parables is difficult, more difficult than it might appear. The stories erupt one after another, the images shift and change, and the explanation of this parable is jammed into the middle of something else. Remember to bring your audience along when  you perform [these scenes]. Groups that I have worked with have done well with parable complexes by playing them as riotously as they possibly can. If the images riot with each other on the page, the players riot with each other onstage as well. Parable interrupts parable, explanations are inserted as soon as the interrupter stops to take a breath. Try this one possible strategy.

In each teaching there is an underlying sense of more than arcane secrets being shared. There is an overtly political message that takes as given the presence of and partnership with G*D and one another. From this, no matter what the size of tree or temple or empire that seems to loom over your time and space, a new arrangement is growing and will come to fruition, and the smallest possibility holds a hope large enough to pursue and Jubilate with as it is revealed.

Mark 4:29

but, as soon as the crop is ready, immediately he puts in the sickle because harvest has come.”

a farmer is slave to the crop
a slip in planning for planting
puts everything at risk
there is no just-in-time farming

the same dynamic is present
each step of the way
even harvest is not the end
for there is life after saving-up

health in body and mind
is critical to success
in a field filled with uncertainty
it is important to keep your edge

because timing is everything
we know farming is comedic
successful farmers love a good joke
for so many have been played on them

farmers turn out to be artists
an ounce of weather here
a cup of soil and an old head of grain
all mixed creatively ready for tomorrow

Hooray, Harvest!

Literally, harvest is “when the fruit allows”. Mystery moves to harvest without reference to a calendar. Harvesting is as artful as waiting through night and day.

There have been hints in Mark, all along, that move toward a resurrection moment. This major Christian motif too often dismisses very real losses along the way and loses contact with other traditions that are reincarnational or agnostic toward anything after death.

In the 1st century St. Clement wrote To the Corinthians and used this parable to illustrate a doctrine of Resurrection “which is always taking place”:

The sower went forth to sow, and cast upon the earth each of the seeds, which fell into the earth dry and naked and are dissolved; then out of their dissolution the majesty of the Lord’s providence raises them up, and from the one many more grow up and bear fruit. ~ 1 Clement 24

It is Clement’s line about “always taking place” that is most helpful. To be “dissolved” before being “raised” points toward living in wilderness where a false sense of control cannot sustain. This is similar to Buddhist training in “don’t know mind”. This practice brings a realization that a happy/blessed and effective life is enhanced when recognition dawns that every moment is unknowable and thus full of possibility. This is an urgent and unhurried fruitfulness.

Mark 4:28

The ground bears the crop of itself – first the blade, then the ear, and then the full grain in the ear;

presence pops
into and out of view
just enough
to keep us alert

this year’s elements
are coming together rather nicely
until we remember
locusts will hatch this year

nothing has its own rhythm
apart from Kali’s dance
of mesmerizing hands
showing one facet after another

our ideal keeps bumping
other bumps in the night
initially cringing in the crash
before dayenu sense settles in

So comes creation. Day by day. Goodness by goodness. Spoken and lived.

This has majesty and grandness worth attending to— marveling and wondering and studying and honoring.

It is also out of control. There is no knowing when a physical harvest turns metaphorical and then harvests us.

The growth we cannot see does eventually come about. It may take an Asimovian-long Foundation series amount of time (though, given the amount of humor in the universe, it is probably not quite as serious and intentional as this speculative fiction extended spoof on popular Christianity). It may be here as quickly as a next breath that doesn’t come.

A review of life is available all along a way leading to a “harvest”. It is such a review that hastens a day for hearing a call to announce through our living a message of belovedness that trusts a present abundance in anticipation of a “harvest” still on its way. Gleaning as an act of honoring a still incomplete harvest, puts us on the way to whatever “enough” might be in the wisdom of Dayenu.

Partnership is a way of reminding ourselves that we are not left to our own devices where everyday life simply spins and there is nothing we can do to hurry or delay a harvest. Partnership that is met in the word “Beloved” does carry action with it, even though such action is not oriented beyond the integrity of one’s best movement toward a wholeness within and desiring such for others. It is in partnership that we are picked up when faltering or caught in specific situations of testing. It is in partnership that we support our partner in their time of confusion or despair. Together we remind each other of a “better” still on its way.

Mark 4:27

and then sleeps by night and rises by day, while the seed is shooting up and growing – he knows not how.

having done due diligence
we sleep innocent assured
with a good tired
trusting an embryonic emergence
with endospermic reserves
in an East Edenic locale

we too rest between sweaty seasons
plant hoe reap feast
filled with static tree knowledge
never quite sufficient
to explain this very day
in paradise’s flux

in this time of time
we wonder what wondering
fishers and herders do
in their time between
how many sides trust has
and which we share

Some cultures and languages count time from day to night and some from night to day. Whether we go from dream vision to implementation or expending gifts to recuperation and re-creation, a presence of and partnership with G*D deepens in its own time.

Note that this creation-centered growth simply occurs. It would be easy to turn this into an ultra-providential understanding that ends us in one version or another of a false prosperity gospel—say your prayer and send in your donation, go to sleep, awaken to notice that you won the lottery without having to buy a ticket.

Listen to Myers and Company: “…Jesus is not advocating passivity but reasserting the divine economy of grace.” At the end of their paragraph there is a foretaste of Chapter 13: “Mark will have more to say about ‘revolutionary patience” in the apocalyptic parables of Jesus’ second sermon (13:28f).”

Listen to Harry Chapin talk about his grandfather’s wisdom (

Harry, there are two kinds of tired: there’s good-tired, and there’s bad-tired. He said, ‘Ironically enough, bad-tired can be a day that you won. But you won other people’s battles, you lived other people’s days, … and when it was all over there was very little “you” in there, and when you hit the hay at night, somehow you toss and turn—you don’t settle easy…. Good-tired, ironically enough, can be a day that you lost. But you … knew you fought your battles, you chased your dreams, you lived your days, and when you hit the hay at night, you settle easy….

Mark 4:26

Jesus also said,  “This is what the kingdom of God is like – like a man who has scattered seed on the ground,

to speak of the ineffable
is to make friends
with all manner of illusions

one must become a magician
misdirecting here and now
for a great reveal later

little by little we track
an elusive fugitive
hidden beneath our breath

we smoke it out
in one short generation
only to do it anew in a next

how are we met and loved
go beyond our counting
sand stars seeds

nonetheless we open doors
develop new icons
settle a plateau before moving on

“The central inaction may still lie at the heart of the parable.” [Perkins]

G*D’s presence is neutral—at best, catalytic. Necessary gifts and seeds are scattered, thrown about. They land in unexpected places such as the youngest or least expected to lead. Judges such as Deborah or Samson surprise us. Kings such as David are not expected. Female “Christopher’s” such as Mary are considered fanciful. Disciples including Peter, Judas, and The Magdalene could not have been predicted, much less a latter-day disciple Paul from non-disciple Saul.

Down through the years this pattern includes our own selves. Sometimes there is much internal resistance such as came with the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Jonah. A question that needs asking and reflecting on again this year (which is every year) has to do with how we will partner with G*D, Creati*n, Neighb*rs, and Instituti*ns this time around. Well? Ask that in your own words of yourself and others around you.

In wilderness days when more devolution than evolution seems to be intentionally wielding its way, we are thrown back into a mystery that goes even further than the mystery of biology. We want to know how long before there is another sea change and how will it come about. These external changes are unknown and unknowable, yet we ask. In asking we delay our own agency and partnerships.

It is only as we come to wilderness as retreat that we are able to wrestle with a smaller and more pertinent question of our own engagement with nasty and broken principalities and powers focused on their own acquisitiveness. Will we risk being a scattered seed/gift?

Mark 4:25

For, to those who have, more will be given; while, from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.”

more is more
same is less

continuing education
or irrelevance

everyday practice
tones our tunes

there is no way around
growth or death

trusting automatic progress
is a fool’s quest

time engaged is time redeemed
time ignored is time crucified

time saved rusts
time invested satisfies

This realistic assessment of the prelude to regime change reminds us of the growing economic gap in our own Market (Mammon) driven economy. Fantasies of some trickle-down that raises all boats tricks those on a leaky raft to imagine there is a yacht in their near future.

Such a lie benefits the richest as it assists them to become richer as it pacifies the poorest with sugar plums dancing in their heads. This is an intellectual presentation of the old control mechanisms of bread and circuses.

In our non-Jubilee reality—the gap keeps growing until it is untenable in terms of sheer numbers and desperation. Because the length of time and degree of distance separating those who have from those who do not have is so great and the imbalance of power so massive, when a final confrontation comes it is all the more terrible for everyone. Were the small differences kept within normal human parameters—that which we can know in daily life without exponents and extravagant words like “millions” or “billions”—a reduction in “great increase” to a few would still be generous without being onerous.

This is about care of the land which needs working by everyone. It cannot be ported over into religious jargon, creeds, or other belief statements. To move too quickly from the physical brings the danger of the great binary of Heaven/Hell and dividing people on the basis of whether they can abide the platitudes that snooker people into believing they are “anything less than beautiful” (Libby Roderick lyric).

Compare this ancient proverb, that may have originated in regard to hospitality, with what you experience of “belovedness”.

Mark 4:24

“Take care what you listen to,” said Jesus.  “The standard you use will be used for you, and more will be added for you.

more than a karmic
tit for tat
is a recognition
our standards
have consequences
for ourselves
community environment

when stopping to feel
rather than think
we find laughter’s healing art
at work to weaken
multiple ego boundaries
in a variety of situations
toward consistent compassion

remarkedly such empathy
reduces our need for reward
to a point of secrecy
should credit be given
its reception makes no difference
transforming the value of reward
to an imaginary number

“Take heed!” or “Listen attentively!” is translated in Conob as “to hear dying”. We are here dealing with life-and/or-death matters. Carlos Castaneda writes of learning from his mentor, Don Juan, that death stands alongside, whispering into our left ear. Death’s implacable knowledge of eventually bringing an end allows an impartial view of a current circumstance. Attending to death puts life in perspective.

To emphasize the importance of the accomplished and coming teachings of Jesus, Mark shifts from the easier image of death to that of G*D. It is, however, the same point that is being made.

The attention we give to our mentors generally corresponds with what we will receive from them. There are times when we may be confused enough by what we are learning that a leap in consciousness arrives despite our inattention. But attending is still the best policy as it provides a context within which to learn and to be surprised.

Remember this is being said to folks who have done their best to listen carefully. In such a context, this is encouragement to keep connecting dots. If you have made the connection between an abundant harvest and the removal of the barren, shallow, rocky soil that is the overarching Empire, your evaluation needs to account for that same barren, shallow, rocky soil in yourself that will become evident should you simply take the power of Empire unto yourself with every intention of using it more mercifully. So they all say; so none do.

Mark 4:23

Let all who have ears to hear with hear.

yes I’ve heard before
those with ears are to listen
there have been blessings
admonitions and curses

I’ve heard them all
in the midst of silence
on the edge of cacophony
claiming priority

every do and don’t
carries its limit
unnoticed at first
undeniable in the end

hearing still needs listening
to cancel noise of praise
and siren of pain
to prune a growing edge

“Ears” are more than physical structures with external form and internal dynamics. Were it that straight-forward there would be no distinction between hearing and listening that would reveal a difference in attention.

This ancient notice given by a teacher works to both wrap up a section and to transition to a variant. It is both conclusion and announcement. Both are connected with “good news” as it has been experienced and expressed by Jesus, those learning from him, and readers of Mark everywhere.

This line has come through before, it is good practice that every repetition be noted and compared, even when there is some distance between them. Repetition teaches important points and marks transitions. Repetition suggests it will reappear either directly or in some other guise and prepares us to recognize it when it next appears (or to be caught more quickly after we have passed by and drawn back to deepen our attention).

As Mark began there was an opportunity to catch repetition with a remembrance of the prophets calling out “Construct”. There was also opportunity to wonder at someone hearing a voice claiming them to be a beloved partner of G*D and extending that wonder in relationship beyond what was already heard and recognized.

A bit later, those called to by Jesus to come and follow had to decide about attending to a possibility that they might partner with a “sweet, tho’ far-off hymn that hails a new creation” (How Can I Keep from Singing, words by Anonymous, tune by Robert Lowry).

In the midst of the wilderness that is Empire, the apostles’ ears attended to a quiet call. In the midst of the wilderness that is our Empire-dominated setting, we will be alerted by our ears that our body needs to step outside the lines that colors might be set free to interact and spark new ways of living together (within or beyond Empire).

Mark 4:22

There is nothing hidden that will not come to light and nothing is concealed that will not be brought into the open.

hiddenness is relative
as every purloined letter attests
every openness likewise
aborting deeper investigations

the poles of life
are always before our nose
taunting us behind a flaming barrier
fading as quickly as passé knowledge

our treasured work
reclaims and hides again
misplaced values
irrelevant factoids

this on-again off-again
adjustment to sliding scales
principles of uncertainty
invigorates freezes

with a step forward back
three to the side
leap jump glide
we find a new shore

A definition of κρυπτός (kryptos, “hidden”) does not carry an implication of something purposely hidden. It is simply a state of being, a piece of reality.

In this way it is like wilderness still to be discovered or a deep turned into a recognizable and named portion of a larger creation.

How long before we act on a revelation born of beneficial testing or refined through a retreat into wilderness. Wilderness retreats are an urgency in times of stress? They are no less urgent when muted by other parts of life and decisions needed in the moment.

Where other recountings of this proverb have a sense of something new, a lamp is lit…, Mark has set this up with an understanding that a revealing lamp has already been lit and is now brought forward for just such a time as this. This is part of a creation-long arc of calling forth joy in the new and applying mercy to all the old. In this call and response we find all the other blessing attributes of Matthew 5–7 rising to work together to complete the past and prepare for a new planting.

Rheostats are wonderful contraptions that adjust output. Partnerships are like smart rheostats as each side adjusts to the other. As darkness settles around one, light grows from the other. From time to time both will be more dark than not and the residual energy from a big beginning will seem a long time coalescing. At other times there doesn’t seem to be anything that will keep us hidden in plain sight. This rhythm remains mysterious at every lamp-of-hope appearance.