Mark 4:16

So, too, those meant by the seed sown on the rocky places are the people who, when they have heard the message, at once accept it joyfully;

first impressions
become straitjackets
forcing new realities
into old fantasies

our sense of depth
of meaning of hope
keeps being fooled
by our depth of desire

new information
provisional pointing
show the incompleteness
of humble ignorance

increasing areas of inquiry
overwhelm joy with anger
flooding our surroundings
with red darkness

until seeing again
remembers much more
than could be known
a new fantasy
bears a second look

The reports of astounded crowds attending to Jesus’ teaching could use a second qualifier: astounded rocky crowds. As the story proceeds the image of a crowd degenerates from “Jesus is King!” into a mob whose final word is “Crucify!”

The Oxford Dictionary names the 2016 Word-of-the-Year—“post-truth”. This follows Merriam-Webster’s choice of “truthiness” from a decade earlier (2006). Crowds are still manipulated through appeals to their anger, fear, disappointed expectation, and trained inability to assess various forms of news (overly balanced reporting to “fake/lying” news). With truth degraded, Psalm 126:6 reminds us about the gift of seeds and time yet available:

We have thrown away so many opportunities;
There is so little time left.
For this chance to start again, Lord, we thank you.
[Everyday Psalms, Jim Taylor]

When Baptizer John was working, people went out to him in an attitude of confession (weeping?) to plant themselves in a vision he carried from prophets of yore. They were to return to Jerusalem and Judea with a new sense of commitment (joy?) to a changed life.

Jesus seems to come to folks and their first response is approval (joy?). When a choice of safety (the death of one rather than that of many) arose, their final act was condemnation (weeping?).

Are we perverse creatures? Yes, aren’t we perverse creatures!

This can be explained through a soil/heart analysis, but ultimately there is no linear line of inquiry that will satisfy. This has a predestinarian feel to it—it is creation’s nature to be rocky.

On to the parallel second part of a longer verse.

Mark 4:15

The people meant by the seed that falls along the path are these – where the message is sown, but, as soon as they have heard it, Satan immediately comes and carries away the message that has been sown in them.

explanation ends a quest
a habitation of dragons
turns into self-projection
misrepresenting size and shape
of other places with resources
complemental to our own
but never given freedom

a source of blessing is a single dove
a source of gluttony is any old bird
in such a small specific
is the entire hazelnut universe
in such a broad stroke
everything contracts to a point
and poof consigned to gone

pathway seed has no implanting
yet suddenly out-of-the-blue
satan is explained through misreading
such is religion’s perpetual downfall
saying ever so much more
than words can ever mean
keep it simpler always simpler

The meaning of the seed is found in its reception. This variant on Marshall McLuhan’s assertion that “the medium is the message” can apply here.

When we are considering evaluating our lives, this is a difficult one to maneuver on our own. We do need others to assist us in hearing beyond ourselves.

As you consider who you might invite to assist you in discerning your ability to discern a call that will invite your best to surface, consider this perspective from The Translator’s Handbook on the Gospel of Mark:

…it is to be noticed that in the explanation of the parable (vv. 15–20) the demonstratives, prepositional phrases and participles are all masculine, not neuter. The explanation of the parable has in view men (not seeds), i.e. the listeners, those who in one way or another receive the word (proclaimed to them)….
          In the explanation [of the parable], by a change of figure, the various kinds of soil become various kinds of men who (literally) are sown therein. Properly what is sown is the (same) Word, and the soils represent the different classes of hearers: in the explanation, however the various classes of hearers are sown. Though there is inconsistency in figures between the parable and its explanation, the meaning is clear throughout….

The “masculine” here noted is to be read as inclusive of all gender identities. For now reflect on yourself as a class of soil.

Mark 4:14

The sower sows the message.

the farmer in the dell
has many animals
each with its own sound

what is the sound of a seed
on a path among weeds
safely rooted in healthy soil

this is the sound
of a next word
deeper than words

as sin is wider than sins
and life larger than lives
a word of seed portends

a field is disrupted
when a seed broadcasts
realized potential

As this is instruction for new proclaimers of a message of great mercy, the word here is a “Jubilary ‘Word’” (Myers, et. al.). There is revolution here that upsets all the accommodations we have made to systems of power. The time has come to reset impersonal Empire and personal privilege that our relationships might be on the basis of our gifts, not our inheritance.

At this point we begin dissecting the parable of Sower, Seed, and Soil. In so doing we will lose its inherent liveliness. Yet, hope lives that getting through hard-headedness will eventually lead to a reduction in hard-heartedness.

It is the λόγος (logos, “word”) that reminds us to look for places where healing of deafness takes place. By extension, this would also include blindness. These blockages to a reception of a word of new life, of great joy, of belovedness, are extensions of places where growth is either constricted or not available.

Noted here is that deafness and blindness, for the reader, are not related to people who have physical limits on hearing and sight, but to those parts of themselves which automatically dismiss hope and mercy, that begin a change but never get further than a New Year’s Resolution, or whose life has so many entanglements that noise of life-giving light and water being sucked away overrides an ability to hear an Elijah-like whisper to get back in the game of announcing.

If λόγος is not personally dangerous, as well as dangerous to Empires and Institutions, it is not good news. This is a needed corollary to our tendency toward theocracy where we structure our outside lives but fail to ground our internal life in continual growth in the humility of mercy and the integrity of theosis.

Mark 4:13

“You do not know the meaning of this parable?” he went on;  “Then how will you understand all the other parables?

Parable 101 is a prerequisite
for Parable 103 and beyond
for there is no end to
parable study

there is no pattern
to a parabolic insight
going out in one direction
only to return us to a different locus

we say yes yes yes
until we find we have turned
a story’s focus from character
to surprised hearer

it is your openness
to imaginative engagement
that will prepare your life
to be a parable incarnate

while not ready for Parable 666
it is good to get started
not to be able to repeat an answer
but to greet a next question

The first question could well be translated as a statement affirming that the apprentice announcers don’t understand parables. Whichever way it is translated, we are in the wonderful world of rhetorical questions.

A reader might be forgiven thinking that they understand the deep mystery that is a parabolē (the idea behind both parable and parabola—a plane intersecting a cone parallel to a side of the cone). We’ve been told that parables, like parabolas, have a single focal point that concentrates a whole story into one moral. Condensing a main point out of a short story shouldn’t be too difficult.

Unfortunately, parables in Mark are a way of moving people off center that they might, “change their heart and life, and trust the good news found in wilderness”.

Being able to know or state a parable’s focus is not what is looked for here. Rather, a parable is mysterious and silent until it is understood in a way that changes behavior.

When a parable finally makes it through our various defenses we note a specific first effect around the focal point. Parables, like parabolas, can be extended. As their arms widen ever-further apart, larger aspects of life and space are included. To change comparisons, a parable is like a camel’s nose under the tent—pretty soon the whole camel is inside. Usually this old saying about camels presumes that camels in a tent are a negative.

Here, parabolic camels are a joy.

Mark 4:12

‘Though they have eyes, they may see without perceiving; and though they have ears, they may hear without understanding; otherwise some day they might turn and be forgiven.’”

ain’t it great
to be in on a secret
setting you apart
in a desired way
free from vanity’s sway

secret holders
are in the top 1%
of meaning seekers
no matter how much lower
they are on other scales

secrets give privilege
over the rich and famous
powerful elites and hidden cabals
eventually our superiority will prevail
a last laugh will be ours

in a world of secrets
it is a comfort to know
answers written on hands
put every test
at our command

we knew it
getting one part of one parable
into an explainable form
is just enough to earn
heaven’s last slot

It is verses like this that make me want to throw up my hands and not go any further into this book. There are difficulties galore here. It is easy to note this verse as a reference to Isaiah 6:9–10. But that ease goes away when we see the way in which Christians have used this as condemnation of Jews as a people.

This verse requires the previous one for connecting purpose with results and the distance between them poses grammatical problems that reflect theological ones.

This bait-and-switch use parables, turning them into riddles, runs counter to Mark’s presentation of Jesus as astonishing crowds through his use of parables to teach many things. The assertion here is that he has done so to both confuse and condemn those who are drawn to him.

These details pale when considering μήποτε ἐπιστρέφωσιν (mēpote epistrepsōsin, “otherwise turn”) which leads into a difficult distinction between “repentence” and “conversion” and how they relate together. Parsing things out at this level is Wilderness (with a capital W). This is what keeps us from the forgiveness that both imply. We get so caught on proper procedures, we lose track of the procedure-breaking quality of forgiveness that has no dependence on such.

Mark 4:11

and he said,  “To you the hidden truth of the kingdom of God has been imparted; but to those who are outside it all teaching takes the form of parables so that –

you and you and you
are in on the secret
they of course are not
unfortunately a secret
about basic belovedness
does not mean you know
the meaning of every story
hint event intention
context of news items
you are not an authorized pundit
your secret is hidden
in plain sight
your heart’s joy
regardless of your heart’s health
parables are not secretive
only provocative through generations
another opportunity in a movement
toward increasing wholeness

“In the Marcan context…parabolē ‘parable’ is a Christian technical term and means the stories Jesus used as illustrations in his teaching about the kingdom of God.” [A Translators Handbook on the Gospel of Mark]

The “mystery” [not “secret”] of G*D’s presence is yours (plural) and to those beyond this little tribe, such revelation comes through little stories and/or riddles. This could be more specific—through stories of Jesus. It is probably best to leave it in the more open format.

Spoiler alert. There is an implicit promise here that the reader will have the secret revealed to them. Just sit back and it will come. It will turn out that such a revelation will not be forthcoming.

Hopefully this will assist the reader in locating themselves in the middle of a much larger parable—the whole book of Mark. We are to wrestle with the riddle of an announcement that doesn’t get announced without the engagement of the reader. This mystery reader turns out to be us and needs engaging all the way through the rest of Mark, both verse by verse and as a whole. To test this, return to read the first three chapters in light your presence in each episode.

We’ve run into the Messianic Secret before. For too many, this provides a way to talk about Mystery without engaging it on a personal level. It is critical to note Pheme Perkins comment: “…the parable theory probably does not belong to the christological use of ‘messianic secret.’”

The disciples receive their “secret” by way of observing healings and hearing parables. The kicker is that those beyond a circle of disciples receive the same. There is no inner-outer distinction here.

Mark 4:10

Afterward, when he was alone, his followers and the Twelve asked him about his parables;

a parable explained
loses its koan effect
and fades faster
than a frog dissected

kids are trained
to not meditate
claiming too early
I don’t know

adults are trained
to say more than is known
exclaiming too early
here’s what it means

a dangerous precedent is set
turning mystery to fact
parable to allegory
a response to answer

For a story built on, BANG, next!, Mark knows how to slow down to a crawl. Any attempt to teach the point of a parable rather than let it grow of its own accord, simply stops time as well as thought.

It is this drilling down that brings forward a suggestion that this is a key moment solidifying the prologue and first act. An announcement was made, tied to prophets old and new; an initial vision and testing developed into healings, exorcisms, and teachings; a conflict with the formal and informal powers was clarified.

No amount of allegorizing this insight about planting and growth will move us onward, but the pedantic explanation given can misdirect our attention. So we will simply spend time here, letting the story settle into the soil of our life and lives. Then we will reprise what we have covered with a revisiting of Baptizer John, healing, exorcism, acts of wonder, feasting, and teaching up to a time of arrest.

This approach places this story at the center of the action. A dove has been planted, like a seed, into Jesus. It found a nurturing place from which to grow. It is on its way to producing more greatness after Jesus is gone. The process is sure.

There are those who place Mark’s turning point at Peter’s affirmation of Jesus as Messiah. Do remember that Jesus silences this and returns to an allusion to this parable with comments about dying and rising as well as a rebuke to Peter for separating Messiah/Christ from the kind of sacrifice a simple seed does as part of its life cycle.

Do your best to continue remembering the sweep of the parable of seed and soil as we plod our way through a choking of the parable with explanations that do not move us ahead. Remember the flow even in the mini-tsunami of additional parables that add other qualities to that of growth.

Mark 4:9

And Jesus said,  “Let anyone who has ears to hear with hear.”

there are ears and ears
some can sort through din
finding a clear 440 A
by which to tune their life

other ears find attunement
and joy in an older 435 A
each can play well
but not so well together

deaf-eared and sharp-eared
can both hear life calls
and both miss their mark
in restrictive meme cultures

yes I have ears and no I don’t
to simply acknowledge this
brings a cave question
did I miss A whisper

Here we have it. After a long slog—verse by verse—there comes a clarion call.

Ears, here, are the inner ear of understanding, not simply our nautilus-like appendages. Did you space out during this six verse story? Yes? Where did that take you? Did you creatively turned this story about seeds and their landing places into a fertile place for visioning? You may want to return to this story to see how different it might be after daydreaming.

Remember that this is a directive to listen to the arc of life, not just a recommendation to glance over your shoulder. Giving attention to any process of life is not easy.

It was with attention that Julian of Norwich saw another seed vision:

And in this he showed me a little thing, the quantity of a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed. And it was as round as any ball. I looked upon it with the eye of my understanding, and thought, ‘What may this be?’ and it was answered generally thus, ‘It is all that is made.’ I marveled how it might last, for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to nothing for littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and ever shall, for God loves it. And so have all things their beginning by the love of God.

It was with attention that Martin Luther wrote:

If you truly understood a single grain of wheat, you would die of wonder.

It is with attention that the Dali Lama speaks of Buddha:

Every sentient being—even insects—have Buddha nature. The seed of Buddha means consciousness, the cognitive power—the seed of enlightenment.

Listen/Attend: Grow where you are: part of a larger whole.

Mark 4:8

Some fell into good soil, and, shooting up and growing, yielded a return, amounting to thirty, sixty, and even a hundred fold.”

quote success end quote
is never a solitary event
seeds do not sprout in a vacuum

at a minimum water is needed
nutrients and an energy source
add their part

should life begin to blossom
pollination and distribution
mechanisms will be needed

success is a whole process
it takes a village
to support an entrepreneur

even in the midst of this joy
there are lost seeds and people
sacrificed to seemingly singular success

quote failure end quote
is never a solitary event
nature and nurture can conspire against

failure is a truncated process
it takes a village
to turn prejudice to discrimination

What loss and trauma simple seeds have experienced!

And, O, by the by, there are these other seeds. They fell into good contact with the soil, deep enough to provide sufficient moisture, and without significant competition. Whether this was by accident, providence, or fate, this seed grew (and grew and grew some more).

This is what we were after, a harvest.

The piling on of multipliers indicates what a marvelous harvest it is. Among those called, no matter their degree of distraction, denseness, or absence, a sufficient number carry the Jesus gene along.

A helpful evaluative tool is the taking of time and thought to review the beginning of a current endeavor. How was it planted and where? Even cement can crack and something grow in an unexpected place. Has there been growth? This is growth measured against a harvest as there are delays that come and harvests missed even though growth happened. Was the harvest sufficient to replace the sown seed and see us through a season? In all of this the time frame of the endeavor is critical.

Mark 4:7

Some of the seed fell among brambles; but the brambles shot up and completely choked it, and it yielded no return.

so many gifts we carry
imagine each flourishing
there would be no time to eat

so some gifts are weeded out
not so good for them
or those needing their increase

a gift caught among weeds
has little chance
if chance is what life is about

here gift does not multiply
even witnessing is cut short
weeds are most disheartening

never getting started we get
a flash in the pan was at least some-thing
but weeds don’t seem to have two sides

seven deadly weeds are quite enough
to touch every life
bound by an entitlement to time

Are you still rooting for the sower of seed? Really, even when their aim seems so fallible? Perhaps we need another sower? A more reliable Messiah?

External realities (from above) eat us up. Good intentions (from within) disappoint. What else can go wrong in life?

Well, neighbors and communities alongside them give evidence of good soil and water. Roots can dive deep, raising canopies.

Those same roots and stems/trunks/leaves desire sufficient resources for themselves and the piece of “survival fitness” they carry. Such acquisitiveness leaves no room for another to fruit. This is no limit from either the outside or from within, but between competing values that have no room for partnering with another.

If the birds and lack of gifts represent whatever might be meant by Creation and Spirit (G*D), this part of the story brings us back to Neighb*rs and the need to have a way to announce, again and again, a message of goodness when these yin and yang energies roll on with their changing partnership relations.