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.

Mark 4:21

Jesus said to them,  “Is a lamp brought to be put under a basket or under the couch, instead of being put on the lamp-stand?

a lamp is for the shining
a trained eye for noticing
an awakened intuition for aptness

don’t bring no stinking boy
to a man’s game
growled Goliath

light glints off wet stones
measuring river-washed roundness
for a split-second release

one has stymied many
collective hope is lost
sulk Saul

new settings need new light
to chase away familiarity blindness
from settled expectations

a city on a hill is not needed
dream your bedroom enlightenment
jests Jesus

A harvest is never just a harvest. It is a marker ending one cycle. Are there other ways of imaging the process of extending seeds and honoring soil?

Light is one such image. Matthew (5:15) tells this story remarking that a little oil lamp gave light for the whole house. A light that shines within is, then, to be carried wherever we go in the world—a gift for others. Luke (11:33) has this inner light as a sign of hospitality, a welcoming of strangers.

Mark’s approach is to engage the reader through a tradition of two questions anticipating negative responses and a third question to be positively responded to.

“Basket” here is too flammable; a bowl of some sort makes more sense but it will suffocate a flame intentionally brought. “Bed” presumes something off the floor but poses difficulties for the many who sleep on the floor (hopefully with a mat) or are unsheltered for one reason or another (external war or internal jangling) and who sleep rough, without bed or mat.

Seed and soil and lamplight all have tasks to reveal more than their ordinary selves can carry in everyday life. We get so overcome with our worries and desires that we miss these gifts and can only receive them without embracing them. To counter our being lost in everydayness, it is important to have a retreat to the wilderness to be tested again about honoring lamps as prelude to honoring all.

Mark 4:20

But the people meant by the seed sown on the good ground are those who hear the message, and welcome it, and yield a return, thirty, sixty, and even a hundred fold.”

there are rankings
even among the saints

most are little known
but each has their day

which Mary which James
is thirty percent better known

and if this is not enough
was it in their day or ours

what saint is still trusted
and which fell asleep at the wheel

Christopher has stumbled
Jude continues riding high

pride of place raises questions
about their modified seed

like any monocultured product
victorious saints weaken us

What an anti-climax! We have focused on the wrong kinds of soil we have been planted in and distracted by the wrong soil we are for a seed of new life to enter and take healthy root. When excuses end, all “comes ’round right” and hazelnuts are shown true, there is simply a harvest—an ordinary harvest; an abundance.

Note the active, intentional, reception of a seed of good news planted within that does change a heart and life into the cultivation needed to make good soil within which others might be nurtured.

This sounds like a way a movement might make it through the trials and tribulations of institutionalization. However, it does not take into account all manner of weed seeds planted in this new and nurturing soil. It also fails to recognize Jesus’ own failures with those who experienced him and heard him—including his own followers.

There is no automatic way to keep life going without embracing all of life—regular birth, ecstasies of belovedness, astonishment of healings and learnings, abandonment that comes with death, and the mystery of echoing effect. Partnering so with life is participating in a bountiful harvest from soil accumulated through the past, watering in present time, and the sun of a new day breaking through our excuses for not engaging today on behalf of tomorrow and those to come.

Mark 4:19

but the cares of life, and the glamour of wealth, and cravings for many other things come in and completely choke the message, so that it gives no return.

the fecundity of creation
pleasuring eye and tongue
a beautiful forever
constant in its tangibleness
weighs heavy around our neck

from baby-hood onward
practicing eye-hand coordination
we grab and grab again
to taste to test
to claim as mine

only to find desire’s akido
fluidly using our desire
as though it were its own
throwing us in a briar patch
we’d never seen before

so many pricks no where to go
invisible and mute
we are an albatross
hung around the neck
of a capitalist consumer culture

In a time of occupation, the fragility of life escalates. Danger is so present it ceases to be talked about as such and is simply a given.

A result is investing our desire for safety in ἀπάτη (apatē, “deceptive attraction”). This is a word we may need to return to as a reminder of the ancient Preacher’s word of “vanity”.

Without being able to name what is choking the life out of us we simply find a noose drawing tighter through the generations. Having placed our lot with generic capitalism and profit, we find the “invisible hand” of some hypothetical and implacable Market to actually be giving us “the finger”. Each time a form of “crony capitalism” reappears we are further weakened. As the resources behind an economy are again raped, plundered, and otherwise despoiled, communities are poisoned, wither, and die.

Just as a misuse of the land depletes resources and beauty, misuse of a whole economy eventually can’t provide for the “general welfare” of people and so there is nothing left for which to provide a “common defense”. The same goes for religions:

“I fear, wherever riches have increased, the essence of religion, the mind that was in Christ, has decreased in the same proportion. Therefore do I not see how it is possible, in the nature of things, for any revival of true religion to continue long. For religion must necessarily produce both industry and frugality; and these cannot but produce riches. But as riches increase, so will pride, anger, and love of the world in all its branches.”                                   ~ John Wesley

Mark 4:18

Those meant by the seed sown among the brambles are different; they are the people who hear the message,

to what
shall you
be compared
you other

weak seed
poorly planted
fruit less
faith less

yes less
than expected
of one
of us

no crown
of stars
for you
in heaven

We are now completing the third difficult spot for partnering with G*D, Jesus, Word, Way, Spirit. The original noted three settings wherein we struggle—emptiness (impenetrable, hardpacked soil), insufficiency (shallow soil without water resources), and overgrownness (already occupied soil claiming life-needed resources).

Initially we have a very gracious and prodigal sowing of seed into structurally problematic places.

In this extended explanation, there is a shift from focusing on the seed as “word” to the seed being “you and me” and our soil-ness that is too hard, too shallow, too weedy.

Our hearts follow our experience of “hard love” and are in turn hardened. Our reserves are too limited to sustain time with parables and the growth they carry with them (our Daily Minimum Requirement of parabolic thinking is lacking). Our inability to stand against established institutions and traditional proverbs excuse our engagement with expectant mercy and practiced prophetic justice.

It is not just our landing in inhospitable times and places that pose difficulties, but our expectations for others to live up to. These distract them from completing their rounds just as we have been distracted by our internal and learned desires for more comfort.

This is not easy to follow—the very kinds of soils we complain have kept us from an abundant harvest are the very kinds of soil we provide for others in their journey.

We have experienced dark nights of the soul and have provide dark night soil to others. We have been guilty of forced enthusiasm just because something is too new to us for us to recognize its limits and longer-term consequences. We have found ourselves in stations of low degree, hazed by our seniors into one conformity or another and passed along our privileges as a limit on others.

Seed/Soil, Word/Grace, You/Me are all positive pairings to bounce off one another to evaluate our Hospitality/Mutuality health.

Mark 4:17

but, as they have no root, they stand only for a short time; and so, when trouble or persecution arises because of the message, they fall away at once.

building one false explanation
leads to subsequent lies

satan is not a Boschian bird
flash in the pans are not abused

a better reason for a lack of courage
Sunday School stories forbidden to grow

there is no depth to literalism
it is as flat as words on a page

there is no soaring imagination
just repetition grinding life away

rate it as shallow as it gets
garbage in garbage out

οὐκ ἔχουσιν ῥίζαν ἐν ἑαυτοῖς might be literally translated: “they have no root in themselves”. This is a more evocative way to speak than simply, “have no roots”.

It raises a question about what in themselves would provide rootage for a stronger joy. Our claim is a mutual experience of partnered belovedness.

Our culture is very good at being critical about who we are by defining us as who we are not. This counter-cultural good news gives us a ground-of-being which can hold and release with equivalent ease.

From the other side, a difficulty in partnerships with G*D and Neighb*r is that our roots lie closer to sources for physical survival and power than to the mutuality found in roots of community and gift (a divide worth contemplating). Being rooted, in next meals and miracle cures for those in our tribe means we do not have roots in everyday common good.

εὐθὺς σκανδαλίζονται finds us “immediately scandalized”. This makes it sound that being differently rooted has an automatic exclusionary clause ready to be exercised. The older sense here being so deeply offended that we will abandon the path we were on and fall back (not down) into a self-protective mode. This is where some regard their initial response to gender, racial, tribal, sexual orientation, poverty, etc. Any of these can reveal a visceral distress and a willingness to dismiss and deny real humanity to anyone not like me. Blame is laid for anything outside a very narrow norm. Rocky soil is good for stoning others.

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.