The National Catholic Review
Following upon the central parable of the sowing ("if you do not understand this parable, how will you understand any other?") is the parable of the lamp. This small parable about light meant to shine is interpreted by the notions of ’secret/come to light’. Given the next words of Jesus, meaning ’listen!’, suggest that the parable of the lamp means to convey the necessity of the ’sowing’ of the Kingdom message (and thus of the Kingdom) – the sowing must take place, it is necessary that God make His good word visible to all. Once again Jesus underlines his role in life, to make the word of God visible to all; no matter what the qualities of various ’soils’, no matter how his audiences may react to him, he must offer the Kingdom to all. In this he is a light not to be hidden, but to be seen and heard by all: Jesus must sow. While in the NT ’hearing’ so often (as here) means ’hear favorably’, Jesus is also careful to point out that one can ’hear favorably’ something that is not what he teaches: Take care what you hear! He then cites, faithful to his Jewish Tradition, the results of listening to or favoring good and truth and favoring evil or falsehood. To encounter Jesus’ words is always a call to decision, a call to hear favorably what he teaches; to accept him is to grow in union with God, but to reject him is to lose friendship with God. Jesus never strays from the reality of the Last Judgment and preparing for one’s judgment. Mark seems to think that the parable of the sowing needs additional considerations. The parable emphasized the readiness of soil or of human hearts to receive the good words of Jesus. But not all the effort rests with him who hears Jesus. A great effort comes from God, too. Thus, one can look at the sowing of the Kingdom as something which a human being (especially in this case, Jesus) can make happen. Without explanations, Jesus recalls how growth of crops happens while ’man sleeps’. Thus, while Jesus hopes for a good hearing on the part of his fellow Jews, he knows that God is working silently to produce His Kingdom. Repentance, then, is both a human and a divine act. Mysterious is the interplay between the hearts of God and of man, but the reality of repentance cannot be explained otherwise. Finally, the mustard seed, so very tiny, serves to elucidate further the reality of the Kingdom of God; we see another aspect of the Kingdom. So small, yet growing ever greater and more surely, the mustard seed becomes the largest of plants. So did Jesus expect the Kingdom of God to grow, and it was evident to Mark and others that the Kingdom, now spread over the Mediterranean world, fulfilled Jesus’ expectations. One cannot ignore the reference to ’the birds of the sky’, suggesting the entrance of the Gentiles into this originally Jewish religion. Mark cites only a few parables here, but they do serve to outline the parameters of the thinking about the Kingdom which followed over the 2000 years since Jesus spoke them. Jesus, then, continues to teach, to call to repentance, to make God’s rule the rule of one’s life. As the first three chapters show, some accepted and others did not. But the offer will continue and be aided by God’s power and will. God will not be thwarted; that is certain. Certain, too, is Jesus’ obedience to ’sow’ salvation to all before him, whatever the cost to him. John Kilgallen, S.J.