11 B Sunday Gospel
June 18, 2018 by
David Jackson in
Reflections on Sunday Gospels
Today’s Gospel passage takes up the Jesus story after Jesus has been involved in public engagement (calling disciples, exorcisms and other miracles). Jesus follows a certain rhythm of public engagement followed by private withdrawal. The two parables chosen for this Sunday are the 2nd and 3rd of three parables. The first parable, in this series of three, is the familiar Parable of the Sower which tells us: “ some seed fell on the path…other seed fell on rocky ground…some seed fell among the thorns…and some seed fell on rich soil and produced fruit.” Only the 2nd and 3rd parables are compared to God’s kingdom.
In her 2006 commentary on Mark (New Collegeville Bible Commentary, with imprimatur and nihil obstat), Marie Noonan Sabin writes: “If we now read the three parables as a connected unit, we can see how they form a conversation about God’s kingdom. The first parable presents a view of God’s kingdom that was typical of apocalyptic writing of the time–that is, it suggests that God had created many people in this world but not all of them will be saved or arrive at God’s kingdom. Some are destined to be lost. The labored allegorical explanation that is given in 4:14-20 …makes salvation the responsibility of the individual soul (or soil). The soil (or soul), moreover, appears predestined. There is no suggestion that the soil could change or that God’s grace might intervene.
The second and third parables, however present an entirely different point of view. The second parable, in fact..functions as a direct, almost comic refutation of the first, suggesting that no matter what, God’s seed will grow and God’s harvest will come. Its insistence on the unstoppable dynamism of God’s seed prepares the way for the third parable, in which God’s kingdom grows surprisingly out of common and ordinary seed.”
She continues: “Through the second parable, he (Jesus) reminds his listeners of the wisdom of not trying to control everything, but to let go and trust in God’s providence. Through the third parable, he reminds them that God created every human being (not just a few special ones) for the fullness of life.”
In a different commentary, Binding the Strong Man, 1997, Ched Myersbegins his reflection on this section of the Gospel with 4:24,25 “He also told them ‘Take care what you hear. The measure with which you measure will be measured out to you, and still more will be given to you. To the one who has, more will be given; from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”” Myers quotes the scholar Joachim Jeremias on the second proverb.: “Jeremias calls 4:25 a pessimistic proverb, paraphrasing it: “That’s what life is like, unjust”. Myers asks: “But what if both (proverbs) are popular adages that Mark is citing in order to repudiate?” Chapter 4:24a begins with an exhortation (warning) to discern what one hears. Myers interprets the first proverb as meaning: “…the only way to survive in the system is to play the game by the rules. This is then followed by an insistence that the system will never change: the ‘haves’ will get richer and the ‘have-nots’ will get poorer.” Myers sees the exhortation to discern as a sharp warning, “Beware what you hear!” against the “conventional wisdom” (represented by the proverbs of 4:24b-25), which assert the futility of trying to alter the ordering of power and privilege in the world. Against this cynical realism Jesus offers two more seed similitudes, one calling for revolutionary patience (the growth of the kingdom will be neither obvious nor controllable, God’s word is a seed that will come to fruition no matter what.) (4:26-29), the other for revolutionary vision and hope despite the odds (God’s word is a seed that is common and accessible, yet grows to be shade and shelter for all creatures) (4:30-32).“
In 4:35 Mark reports that Jesus invites his disciples to accompany him to cross “to the other side” of the Sea of Galilee. Mark is making a major narrative transition, for this boat trip represents a new departure. (It is the first of several different boat trips across the Lake.) In Mark’s Gospel the West side of the Sea of Galilee is Jewish territory it is from here they are leaving. . The East side is pagan territory. They will arrive to be confronted by a terrifying demon. We now (Myers writes) “ …join Jesus on a new journey “to the other side” (4:35). This crossing will prove to be difficult, indeed one that almost takes our lives (4:38). And Jesus’ calming of the storm is no mere nature-miracle, rather it pivots the narrative into the beginning of a new campaign of symbolic action that will more deeply reveal the messianic way.