The Gospel of Mark may be the shortest of the four Gospels in the Bible but it read very much in-your-face so to speak. Unlike the other two synoptic Gospels, Mark gets the reader very quickly into the ministry of Jesus. Jesus declares the good news, calls for his followers and the race is on. Things go sort of afoul very quickly. Here is Israel’s Messiah driving out demons, healing the sick, preaching the good news…hence, living out the good news of the Kingdom…but rather than welcoming him, his Jewish religious contemporaries are angered by him to the point of wanting to kill him (Mk 3.6) and accusing him of doing his ministry by satanic powers (Mk 3.23).
That provides the setting for the parable of the sower Jesus tells in Mark 4.1-20. The parable is about a farmer sowing seed. Some falls on the road or path rather than in soil, shallow rocky soil, or unplowed soil full of thorns. In each case, the seed is lost. The seed that does take root in good soil grows and yield a crop of thirty, sixty, and a hundred times. Jesus interprets the parable for his followers saying that the seed sown on the road is the seed snatched away by Satan while the seed sown in shallow rocky soil is received initially with joy but is lost in the wake of trouble and persecution and the soil sown among the thorns and thistle is snuffed out by the material concerns of the world. Others, however, are the ones in whom good seed is sown because the hear the word (logos) accept it and it yields that produce of thirty, sixty, and hundred times.
The word “hear” (akouō) is very important to this parable. It occurs seven times in v. 3, 9, 12, 15, 16, 18, 20. The word is typically rendered in English as hear or understand. It has to do not just with the physical ability to audibly hear but also the wherewithal to comprehend the meaning of whats being said. This is important because it is the difference between those who hear the word and accept it, yielding the great produce (Mk 4.20) and those in whom the seed is lost upon and wasted. It is the difference between what is to become of Jesus’ followers and Jesus’ religious contemporaries plotting to kill him and accusing him of satanic power. It begs the question, how is our hearing? The problem with those in whom the seed is lost and wasted is that they have “ineffective hearing” (R.T. France, The Gospel of Mark, 184). How is our hearing? Further, there is not any mistaking those who hear properly because, as verse 20 is clear on, they are the ones who accept the word and bear fruit because of it (Morna D. Hooker, The Gospel According to Saint Mark, 132). How is our hearing?
As this parable is read for the contemporary community of Jesus followers, it should not be forgotten that the gospel Jesus proclaimed and lived was so scandalous that it was the religious community rejecting Jesus…even wanting to kill him. They are the ones who do not hear. Why? Well because they fear persecution, a caught up with the concerns of the world, and because of Satan…
Ah…Satan. That is the one which does not seem self-explanatory. How does Satan come and snatch up the seed (the good news of the Kingdom of God) from the communities is has been sown among? The parable never says, so anything said is speculation…but not necessarily unfounded, off the wall, speculation. Here are some ways in which I believe explains how Satan might snatch up the seed. I have three ways in mind: legalism, nationalism, and domestication. All three snuff the life of the gospel right out of the community it has been sown in by subtracting from the gospel by adding conditions upon it (legalism), by blending the gospel with national interests to the point in which there is little – if any – difference between the two (nationalism), and by eliminating the edgy risks of the gospel into a safe and manageable religion (domestication). Does any of that sound familiar?
Do we hear? Do we understand? What sort of fruit is being yielded…legalism, nationalism, domestication…or a produce resembles the life of Jesus Christ (the same Jesus who angered the religious establishment)?