Mark 4: He tells seed tales

With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

~Mark 4:33-34

I love stories. Stories shape our lives. The stories we tell about ourselves define who we are.

Did I ever tell you about the first time I saw met your mother? We were outside Dr. Munger’s music theory class, first class of freshman year at West Chester. We were all so nervous and excited. Or — well, at least I was nervous. But your mother seemed so confident. She was chatting up everybody and anybody — you know how she does — while we waited for Dr. Munger to get there, like this was nothing, like she belonged there. And I just fell in love with her on the spot.

Of course, it didn’t hurt that she was cute as a button…

Stories change the world. A good story gets into us. They tap into our emotions, not so much bypassing our logic as taking it along for the ride by asking us — our whole selves — to participate and experience this event along with the storyteller.

Stories can inflame long-dormant passions. Charles Dickens practically invented the modern Christmas in A Christmas Carol. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin changed the course of a nation. It was, according the Lincoln, “the book that made this great war.”

Stories have been unleashing cultural and political change since the beginning of time. They are simultaneously safe and dangerous. They allow the teller a distance, a plausible deniability. “It’s just a story!” the bard feigns while fanning herself at all the outrage generated as the implications of the story take root and run wild.

In sinister hands, a well-told story can be used to cement old prejudices. The Birth of a Nation was fundamental to ushering in the second era of the Ku Klux Klan.

In kind hands, a good story can realign a destructive way of thinking into a new vision that is healthy and beneficial. All while the unsuspecting listener soaks in this seemingly innocuous “just a story.” And that is where we find Jesus. Talking about ground. Talking about a sower. Talking about seed. Telling a story about stories.

First, the sower. The sower does not prepare the land. He does not discriminate and target. He simply scatters his story to wind, seemingly at random. Broadcasting.

I know, we love to run on to the farming metaphor. We want to strategize so we are use our resources more effectively. We run workshops to teach us to clear the cultural rocks away. We read and write books on the worry thorns that are choking us in this media-saturated age, and how to break free of them. We fight spiritual warfare against the demon birds snatching seeds before they even have a chance to germinate.

Because it’s all about getting to that hundredfold harvest, and farming is hard work. We’re on a mission!

But our sower, our storyteller very clearly isn’t a farmer, at least not how we think of farming. This is not a story about the hard work of telling the story, the hard labor of growing a crop.

If anything, telling this story is easy. It is almost haphazard. Even careless. And the crop the springs up requires minimal effort from the sower.

Hrm. It’s almost like maybe the main character of this story isn’t the sower at all…


Now, there are obstacles in this story. There are different types of ground. Different people hear the story. Some get it. Some don’t. Some get it and forget it. Some want to get it, but have other priorities.

And we intuitively understand this part of the story all too clearly. All the distraction and clutter and adventures in missing the point of our lives. We recognize ourselves in it, and we recognize our friends and neighbors and loved ones it.

So why doesn’t the sower do anything about the rocks and the weeds? Why is he so careless?


Maybe the main character in the story isn’t the ground either? And maybe the obstacles aren’t the main point of the story?

Maybe the main character in this story is the seed.

“The sower sows the word.”

~Mark 4:14

This is the key.

Yes, you can generalize this as a story about stories. But the truth is, Jesus isn’t telling just any story. He is telling a very specific story. And it is a story that wants no part in propaganda. Jesus is not interested in manipulating.

The sower trusts the seed. Jesus trusts this story to spread, on its own, at the right time. Because this is a very particular seed, a very particular story.

The sower sows the word.

What is the word?

You may say, “Well, the Bible of course!” But the Bible didn’t exist at the time Jesus told this story.

So what is the word?

The word is the message that Jesus came to deliver back in Mark 1. It’s the one he has been preaching to all the towns and villages everywhere. It’s the one people have chasing him all over the countryside to hear, the one they’ve been breaking through roofs and get close to.

Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

~Mark 1:14-15

This is the word. This is the good news. This is the gospel. This time is now, and the Kingdom of God is here; turn from whatever you are doing that distracts from that and join me. 

The word is nothing more and nothing less than Jesus himself. Compassionate, patient, kind. Angry defender of the marginalized. Thorn in the side of those who erect barriers between God and his children. Master storyteller who never seems to answer a direct question. All this and more.

The Word became flesh and blood,
    and moved into the neighborhood.

~John 1:14 (The Message)

So what of the “bad” soil? Is it lost forever? Is it forgotten?

The story doesn’t say, because, again, that’s not what it’s about. But let me wrap up with a few questions:

Does the sower ever stop sowing?

And once those seeds take root, what happens? Do the plants reproduce?

Can they be contained?

Have you ever see a tree planted too close to a house?

In 200 years, who will win that battle? The roots, or the concrete?

So do you trust this peculiar little seed, or not?


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