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.

Mark 4:6

but, when the sun rose, it was scorched, and, because their roots were not deep enough, withered away.

itsy-bitsy spiders
know the sun dries up all the rain
seeds are just as wise

spiders can climb again
seeds can but wait and trust
valuable gifts but impractical

seed qua seed
does not flourish everywhere
but has a high mulch value

so no harvest this year
but imagine those to come
built on buried bodies come alive

how do we gather perspective
on ships and sails
and seeds and spiders

Just as with the birds, quick fixes usually mean there will be a bigger repair bill already on its way.

With our little seed relatives, we have found ourselves being a big frog in a small pond, a king of the croakers who continues to croak even as changes in climate push the heat beyond what can be borne. In this thought experiment variant, we are unaware of how we are increasingly imperiled, all the while denying a problem.

The joy of seeing only the sunny-side has led into a trap of prosperity gospels and positive thinking where a lack of common welfare and real science stokes a revolutionary fervor.

We feast on sunlight being chlorophylled into sugars that invite diabetes. We burn in sunlight damaging skin cell DNA and leading to cancer. There is no good without a corresponding limit that requires thought and discipline.

Even our favorite model of “premeditated mercy” (see book of the same name by Joseph Nassal) needs to recognize the reality of dealing with narcissistic and other sociopathic personalities who have no reciprocal response available to them other than taking advantage in the short-term and bringing death in the both short- and long-term.

A manipulative mercy has very short roots and turns into whining martyrdom. Mercy, holistically developed across generations, can give rise to increasingly diverse expressions of creative “it is good”s.

Two iterations of seed-landing locations have come (paths and shallow soil) and two opportunities for seeds to grow have gone. The story is still going on in Mark and it is still going on around us today. We are not through yet, even though we want to hurry on. Take another breath and let this story further wash over you?

Mark 4:5

Some fell on rocky ground, where it had not much soil, and, because the soil wasn’t deep, sprang up at once;

rocky soil is not mature
shallow     granular
lacking earthworms
good for one crop
soon depleted

it is exciting
to turn a quick profit
but slow and steady
return customers
is long-term gain

individualized capitalism
has its built-in failure
favoring money over labor
a division fomenting revolution
nouveau riche is juvenile

As with all good intentions, some don’t even make it to the drawing table, much less move to next levels of implementation and finally payback.

Sometimes the first blush of inspiration or first crush, puppy love, sets us all aglow. Our energy is high and expectations higher. This is a grand moment when we can see we are ahead of everyone else.

The poor can see themselves as successful entrepreneurs, if only they had a break. Their fantasy: surely this is the year when everything is all going to break my way.

Can you remember your own best plan that took off like a house on fire? Well, maybe that isn’t the best image for soon you will be without a house. At least it garnered a lot of affirmation from those around you and even a first draft was looking good.

Don’t we wish that this story would move more quickly! While it may be our contemporary visual pacing of television and movies that drives us ever faster, there are other factors as well. One of them spans the generations—our real agenda.

Our ulterior motives keep us from doing simple, active listening. We keep thinking about what we are going to say next. How we can shine. In the story of Mark we have come to expect another healing right around the next urgently turned corner. And it may be mine!

The quicker Jesus can finish up this shaggy-seed tale, the quicker we’ll be back to the action.

Yes, seeds can grow quickly in shallow soil. So do our desires. To change metaphors for a moment, this part of the story is about boom-towns that spring up overnight to benefit special someones more than ordinary laborers who are here today and gone tomorrow.

Mark 4:4

and presently, as he was sowing, some of the seed fell along the path; and the birds came, and ate it up.

routine walking wears ruts
where grandest opportunities
go to die

there is no need to glance down
where some little nothing
sparkles in dust

we know where we’re going
who it is that goes this way with us
habitual friends distract

survival takes all the time we have
in the end it all goes up in smoke
no rose smelling

what got them in the end
putting one foot in front of the other
not paying attention

No matter how controlling we attempt to be—birds!

Even in the midst of deep fertile soil on the prairie where mechanical monsters plow, plant, and cover all in one efficient movement, birds still gather for they know how to glean before a harvest as well as after.

When scattering seed a fistful at a time, the number of seeds available to the birds probably goes up. No matter how we construct our risks there are always scenarios where the seed doesn’t stand a chance from the get-go.

With enough cameras with high enough resolution to image an individual seed on its journey from hand to land, we could even come up with an average of how many seeds made it to germination within the bounds of the field. Your homework is to search YouTube to see if you can find examples of broadcasting seed and estimate how many seeds fall somewhere where they are immediately available to an alert seed-feeding bird.

From our life-journey so far we might begin to see where the best soil for growing is and where it is too well-traveled, mapped, and otherwise owned. Hypothesis: The best place to sow seed or to fish for people is among the desperate. Those who are poor with no access to the medical care of the day provide an easy place to start a movement to make things better. A not-great place to expect an increase is with the rich and powerful, either religiously or politically.

Even the best and most practiced sower of seeds finds there are places where learning seems to have stopped—in deep, dark, packed ruts. Just acknowledge this and keep sowing.

Mark 4:3

“Listen! The sower went out to sow;

we used to know farm life
we now know grocery aisles

to make a point these days
it is market forces that speak

either we have heard this story too much
or it is too alien to translate

in theory an education system
would help us deal with allusions

test answers never help
in a land of alternative responses

so what if a farmer goes to seed
our minds are filled with weeds

The imperative injunction to “Listen!” is grown-up talk for, “Put your thinking caps on.”

It is time for a story problem that connects with your life and not just numbers. The train leaving Station A is Your Life. The train leaving Station B is Paradise on Earth. A point of connection is already underway. Will you find this connection today?

We are going to begin very easy. There is no rush here. What do you know about farmers? Yes, they farm. What is a farm? Yes, there are plant farms and animal farms and fish farms. On a farm, what happens to plants, animals, and fish? Yes, they grow. You already know a lot about this story.

This is a story about a plant farm. Plants grow from seeds and those seeds need to planted. That’s pretty funny—plants need to be planted.

There are lots of different ways that seeds can be planted. This story is about a method called “sowing”. When you see this word it is not about female pigs. When you hear this word it is not about constructing clothes. Sowing is taking a handful of seeds and tossing them where you want them to grow.

The sower wants to get them as close to the edge of their field as they can. Wind is one reason some seeds might end up beyond the field where the ground is not good for them and they won’t grow. You might think about other ways the seeds could get outside the farm land.

Oh, yes, it will be helpful to know this story is best known by the smallest and poorest farmers for whom every seed is important if they want to eat for another year.