Mark 4:38

Jesus was in the stern asleep on the cushion; and the disciples roused him and cried, “Teacher! Is it nothing to you that we are lost?”

don’t you care we are drowning
is a question every threatened group
yells at persecutors and observers

at least recognize our suffering
see yourself in our plight
this must be witnessed recorded

students everywhere are tempted to give up
new concepts are too daunting
old resources no longer suffice

teacher teacher teacher they beseech
don’t you care we are failing
bail us out give us the answer

When in trouble, we cherish a, “but”.

All is not lost; there is still a way. If it had come earlier we would have been saved some angst.

In trying to prove our mettle, we find we have put off important connections. Not only has community suffered, so have we. Finally, we can no longer put off acknowledging our fear.

What more is there to be done?

Swanson recognizes a “tension in this scene is between people who know danger when they see it and Jesus who is asleep”. He suggests that the question asked of Jesus, “works well if they are really asking Jesus to get busy and act as if he were a part of the crew. Honor this truth when you play the scene.”

This acted-out parable pushes us back to the importance of partnership and growing together as a source of overall maturity of both individuals and community.

Several commentators bring Jonah into the picture (Jonah 1:5–6). They connect Jonah sleeping below deck with Jesus sleeping in the back of the boat. Both the crew of the ship Jonah is on and the disciples in the boat with Jesus ask them to do their job of connecting with G*D so things can be put right and we will be saved.

Both crews are fox-hole invokers. Until things are beyond us, G*D is beyond us. Prayer is a fix-it technique, not a process of deepening relationships, growing together.

Here Jesus is not thrown into the sea but called to take his part bailing water from the belly of the boat. Those with ears are invited to hear beyond words, to work on a changed heart.

Mark 4:37

A violent squall came on, and the waves kept dashing into the boat, so that the boat was actually filling.

a day’s pent-up energy
returns in unexpected fury
provisional answers nip at ankle
our bright guide star is clouded

observed from afar we thrash
awash in waters old and new
threatening our over-stressed mast
entreating our siren-yearning ears

this is not a straight-line voyage
from frying pan to fire
but a whirlpool maelstrom
unambiguously deadly deep

each perfect storm activates fear
scares the bejesus out of us
leaving us cobra entranced
resigned to an unavoidable bite

the end of our rope has been reached
no more decisions are needed
as the waters rise we know
our boat is no ark but garbage scow

Exaggeration, thy name is familiar. Waves look different depending on whether one is on shore or asea. Even if on the water there is a difference between being on an ocean-going freighter or coracle. Each serves in their appropriate setting but both would be up a creek without a paddle if they swapped places

For the moment we suspend our disbelief. We know what it is to feel fear beyond the danger of the moment. Fear is exponential, not additive.

This is the wild side of wilderness writ large. This goes beyond a test we get a D- on. We have reached the failsafe point and have failed. If the wind weren’t so strong, everyone could smell our fear. Our only urgency at this point is to withdraw from the game, forfeit-or-die. In the face of a bullying storm, we cry, “Uncle!” or use our safe-word, if only we could remember it.

These are dangerous times we live in. Those who would control through punishment are in charge. This wind is a parable for Empire about to blow everything apart, including itself. We need a mustard plant to shelter us. We are beginning to see what was at stake with the teachings.

But we are not there yet. The culture’s shadow side has been accepted as our own and we are convulsed needing it to be exorcised from our own lives. Our authority is strong enough for others, but not for ourselves. This test is too much.

Mark 4:36

So, leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them, just as he was, in the boat; and there were other boats with him.

leopards are not chameleons
spots are not so easily changed

still muttering about seeds
Jesus is placed in a boat

a Parable Armada is underway
widening as it goes

it is not long before sea swells
rock all and a navigator to sleep

evening darkens and deepens
souls laid down and angels invited

ah sweet rest after a busy day
its seed planted rain awaited

Other boats are a transient detail that plays no other part in the story than reminding us that not all the followers were committed beyond what they could get for themselves. We may think about these boats a bit more as we get into later betrayals. They start out strong here, but are soon out of the picture. This is another way to chart our own engagement with the Jesus story—are we continuing close abaft, drifted away, or noting storm-clouds, return to safe harbor.

The greatest mystery here relates to the phrase, “took him as he was. His “wasness” includes the sense of a mission larger than the personal. Whether by land or water, the Way of Jesus includes partnering, through calls and responses, with those able to open new ways to both those who have settled into sufficient meaning for the time and those who are elsewhere. This will require questioning the verities our ancestors did their best to describe and wrestling with our own experiences of limits and their crossing.

Jesus’ “wasness” is not pushed back to John’s “in the beginning” or Matthew and Luke’s variants on a birth narrative. Mark begins with a sense of something more that led Jesus to travel from Nazareth to the Jordan. These subsequent “other side” trips are a continuation of exploring the presence of G*D and practicing so partnering with G*D and others that there is such similarity that anyone looking on would wonder how they keep completing one another’s thoughts.

The followers of Jesus had to take him as he was, not as they imagined what a Messiah or Partner of G*D would necessarily be and do. It is the tension between their recognition of Jesus’s ability to guide them outward and their own continual surprise at how much more there is to G*D and themselves, that keeps urging them onward.

Mark 4:35

In the evening of the same day, Jesus said to them, “Let us go across.”

evening time is prelude
to dream time connections
thinning this from that
this shore from any other
this wisdom from all others

here rests a wild day
with winds forecasting wilder
today’s survival is not a vaccine
protecting us from tomorrow’s storm
must we rest dare we rest

it has been a day of parables
stirring our under-exercised imagination
wearying us with possibilities
confusing us with situational choices
a simple ride would be a relief

enthusiasm is dampened by suspicion
are we deepening today’s parables
by extending them from word images
to silent existential experiences
following is not as easy as first thought

A time of teaching comes to a pause. The rhythm of learning requires a practicum.

This gives us opportunity to breathe and consider what we think was meant by all those parables of a growing presence of G*D. It will be tempting to see such growth coming of its own accord.

Evening arriving with a sea to cross begins to tickle the back of the neck. There is just a hint of ominous music on the edge of consciousness.

But, we do have the big guy, our number one, with us to not only guide, but protect. Whew.

Having reestablished our trust in Jesus’ identity, we shift positions in the teaching boat and proceed with oar and sail to pull away from shore.

It should be noted that popular imagination from afar would tend to make the waves of Galilee mountainous. In ordinary time the wind does blow as the heat of the lake intersects with the cool from the heights but we are not talking hurricane/typhoon weather. The shallowness of the lake can get waves going quickly and choppily which does have its dangers, but experience would show that there is not undue risk by continuing on the now-here / now-there itinerary Jesus seems to have in his head and that his followers have come to expect, if not predict.

For now, we simply note Jesus’ intention to go to “the other side”. Teaching and healing are for all, not just the privileged.

Mark 4:34

and to them he never used to speak except in parables; but in private to his own disciples he explained everything.

everything is parabolic
  a yellowed lecture
    is a parable
  even if no examples are used
  a police command
    is a parable
  even when shouted after shooting
  a parent’s ruling
    is a parable
  even when excessively applied

nothing is explainable
  a missed antecedent
    is explainable
  but no less baffling in the moment
  a creed
    is explainable
  but no less outdated until updated
  a case law
    is explainable
  but no less inapplicable next time

The previous verse (4:33) and this one belong together to present a Semitic parallelism. They reinforce one another while each expands the other.

There are two levels of teaching—the lively presentation of evocational context and the excavational exploration tied to living with a changed mind and heart.

Verse 33 finds a good message in finding the mundane as source of rapture. Creation is never left behind for some heaven that can only be hyperbolic. It is a grounding from which deeper vision grows. All those punishment-oriented “Left Behind” novels got it 180° wrong. It is always Paradise-in-Creation where we find ourselves beloved and beloving.

This verse ties us to this grounding through the work of refining nuggets of insight into a usable form that goes on to touch all the rest of our life. This transformation takes a great amount of intention (energy/time) and diligence (matter/space) which represents both a satisfied moment and a well-lived life.

Apply story and reflection, rinse, repeat (more of the tale and further reflection), practice, hear a story prequel, follow a rabbit-trail, allow the story to echo in a fallen-into cave, rinse, practice, begin telling a story, hear it repeated, pause, hear a story sequel, practice, smile, stumble across one link between stories, sleep, dream, awake to play, play your part in a larger play, the story of a life with wild beasts and angels hovering ‘round, seeds and soils, Holy Cow and Brother Coyote, storms and retreats, fables and dissertations, yes, . . . .

Mark 4:33

With many such parables Jesus used to speak to the people of his message, as far as they were able to receive it;

we practice parables
for we never know
how many it will take
to hear another
one we need
for our own health

The most prevalent error made in an attempt to teach is in saying just that one more thing than the teacher understands.

This shows up in the archetype of a professor with yellowed notes carrying along what once was a helpful insight as though it were all that ever will be worth knowing. It is revealed no less in an avant-garde early adaption of any whiff of an advertiser’s, “New! Improved!”

Both betray a movement of advance, consolidate, advance. Living off a past advance or an anticipated neo-anything (ego, both) leaves no room for the space needed to retreat to deep wilderness to arrive at a new shore such as D.H. Lawrence parablized in his “New Heaven and New Earth”:

IT was the flank of my wife
I touched with my hand, I clutched with my hand
rising, new-awakened from the tomb!
It was the flank of my wife
whom I married years ago
at whose side I have lain for over a thousand nights
and all that previous while, she was I, she was I;
I touched her, it was I who touched and I who was touched.

Yet rising from the tomb, from the black oblivion
stretching out my hand, my hand flung like a drowned man’s hand on a rock,
I touched her flank and knew I was carried by the current in death
over to the new world, and was climbing out on the shore,
risen, not to the old world, the old, changeless I, the old life,
wakened not to the old knowledge
but to a new earth, a new I, a new knowledge, a new world of time.
Ah no, I cannot tell you what it is, the new world
I cannot tell you the mad, astounded rapture of its discovery.
I shall be mad with delight before I have done,
and whosoever comes after will find me in the new world
a madman in rapture.

A radical rhetoric simplifies, telling the same story over and over again in such a way that facet after facet sparks imagination: G*D and I are beloved Partners—now what will I do with that?

Mark 4:32

yet, when sown, shoots up, and becomes larger than any other herb, and puts out great branches, so that even the wild birds can roost in its shelter.”

there is no better way
to prepare for tomorrow
than to know it to be larger
than we can appreciate today

it very well may go bust
as we commit suicide
either delayed or immediate
life can be brutish and short

nonetheless we dream big
to do otherwise seems strange
dishonoring all that’s gone before
confusing choices and imperatives

those who know their east and west
find light’s speed squared
in each chakra chi and seed
transforming embryos to communal nests

moving individuals to common goods
occurs in a middle journey
noting yesterday’s growth into today
shifts doom toward thanks

Our location on earth is critical to our sense of well-being or generalized spirituality.

We are not dealing with Cedars of Lebanon, worthy of our grandest temple and sign of august authority. Likewise we are not dealing with Matthew or Luke with birds nesting in the branches of this mysterious mustard. Both of these are grand images and indicative of the power of growth far beyond what is expected.

Rather, we are looking at a substantial plant that can maybe double a person’s height. Here the image is a different kind of growth—birds nesting in its shade, nesting on the ground. This is wilderness resting, temporary, vulnerable.

The Jewish Annotated New Testament notes: “Like other parables, this one is satirical and humorous, and highly suggestive: the kingdom is like a scrubby invasive bush!” This critical component of good humor, even great joy, takes delight in its role reversal as an antidote for the seriousness of both fate and providence. We get easily caught in a trap of an event’s great import, whether of profound disaster (“O woe are we!”) or extreme good fortune (“We must have done something good along the way!”). Good news breaks both negative and positive expectations in the same way satire frees.

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.