Summary: When Jesus taught, he did so in parables. Now this was not unique in Jesus’ day for most rabbis or teachers taught in parables. The Greek word for parable means “thrown along something else.” Parables are about comparisons.
Jesus, the Teacher
For the past several weeks, we’ve been looking at the Gospel of Mark through two questions: “Who is Jesus?” and “What meaning does he have for our lives?” We’ve learned that Jesus came to preach that the kingdom of God is near, he came to heal, to call people to follow him and now we see that Jesus came to teach about the Kingdom of God. When Jesus taught, he did so in parables. Now this was not unique in Jesus’ day for most rabbis or teachers taught in parables. The Greek word for parable means “thrown along something else.” Parables are about comparisons. One thing which is confusing is set up alongside another which is not and Jesus compares the two so that you can understand the confusing thing through the thing which is easy to understand. And so Jesus uses commonplace things in his world that people would experience everyday of their life, like mustard seeds, planting a garden, having sheep and baking bread and all of these examples are used to show how the kingdom of God is like it. Now parables are meant to teach one point so when Jesus teaches in a parable, he is teaching about one aspect of the kingdom of God and not about its entirety.
The disciples asked Jesus why he taught in parables and Jesus gave them a very confusing answer: “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, (now he quotes from Isaiah) “‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’” Scholars have debated what this means because Jesus seems to say that he teaches in parables so that people will not understand and thus could not turn to God. But that contradicts Jesus basic message was a call for people to repent for the kingdom of God is at hand. So what do we make of this passage? Parables can seem to be confusing at first. They are like riddles: they are meant to be pondered. But the thing about parables is that even the simplest person, if they think about them long enough would say, can come to understand them. Parables were meant for everyone to hear but to understand they had to ponder it. Many people came to Jesus wanting to be told the truth and what to believe and Jesus said, it’s not that way. You have to think about what you believe and why you believe it.
And that’s how the Christian faith is. On the one hand, all you have to do is accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and then live according to his wisdom, guidance and power. On the other hand, your faith has to engage your mind, heart and soul. Jesus wants you to think through your faith and wrestle with what you believe and why you believe. And if you are unwilling to do that then it’s likely that you will be listening but never perceiving, hearing but never really understanding and you are going to find yourself lost. And so parables are really a challenge for you to engage not only the kingdom but the truths of God and what you believe.
Now our Scripture today is the Parable of the Sower but it would be better to call it the Parable of the Soils. Jesus teaches this Parable in a place on the Sea of Galilee called the Bay of Parables. Mark tells us that there were 1000’s of people on the shoreline pressing upon Jesus so he goes out in a boat so Jesus can teach them and be heard. On the slope of the bay it is thought to be the place where Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount. There in the background you can make out the Chapel of the Beatitudes. Now some sound engineers have actually tested this area to see how many people could hear if Jesus was teaching in this spot. What they found is that the water acts as an amplifier and they determined that 8-10,000 people could have heard Jesus speaking from that spot. So the 3000 who are gathered there for this parable could easily have heard Jesus teach that day. Once again, science proves the accuracy of the Bible. In this spot, there are crops growing on either side of the slope leading to the bay and at the top is rocky ground and so as Jesus teaches, he draws upon the surroundings for his message.
Now Jesus has been preaching for 6 months and everywhere he goes, he draws a crowd. His healings only increased the fame of Jesus and the size of the crowds. Many people were coming just to see the show, the healings of Jesus. But there were also people who were sick and in desperate needs of Jesus’ healing touch. As Jesus taught, he saw that many people came to hear him and never came back. They came and stood with their arms folded and weren’t really interested in what he had to say but came to see the healings. There were others that Jesus noticed came back several times but then they seemed to get bored after a little while. It was as if they wanted to know what in it for them. But when Jesus preached that it wasn’t about you but about God and serving other people, they weren’t interested anymore. He noticed that there were some who had gotten on the discipleship path and were really yearning for God but then he noticed that they were torn. They wanted to pursue the kingdom of God and yet they felt the call of the world to pursue riches, affirmation and position. They couldn’t decide which they wanted more and eventually the world won.