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.

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.