15. Mark 4:13-20: Ways of Hearing
The questions the twelve asked Jesus about this parable prompts him to ask how they will understand any of the parables (v.13). His parabolic announcement of Jubilee, then, is paradigmatic of what the Jesus movement is all about. And as hard as it may be even for them (to whom its mystery has been given, v.10) to “get” this parable, they should not be surprised when it “sowing” to their contemporaries issues in much rejection. Thus, Jesus uses its imagery to craft a parable on “hearing.”
Some hearers are on path where the word was sown. They have no chance as Satan himself swoops in and removes the word from them. Enmity to Jesus’ Jubilean word has more than human rejection to deal with. Think here of a balloon lying deflated in your hand. You intend to blow it up but somehow, for some reason, you never get around to it. The balloon lies limp not doing what it was meant to do.
Some hearers are like seed sown on rocky ground. They accept it at first happily but its puts down no roots in them. And when the cost of this commitment rears its head, “trouble or persecution,” poof! they are gone! Think of a balloon inflated, held by fingers at the bottom. The fingers let go, and the balloon flies off erratically around the room.
Yet other hearers are like seed sown among thorns. They accept the word, take it seriously but slowly “the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things” strangles their faith and nothing comes of it. Our balloon is inflated again and held by fingers at the bottom. This time, the fingers open slowly allowing the air to escape little by little. But the end result is the same. The balloon lies empty of air, unable to bring joy to others as it was made to do.
Finally, some are like seed sown on good soil. They receive the word, embrace it, it takes root, endures, and bears fruit. Again, 30-60-100 fold. Here our balloon is blown up full of air. And as it is blown up, more balloons emerge from it blown up to full capacity. And more balloons emerge. And more. Each is tied off to contain its air and creates great festivity.
These parables, Jesus tells his followers, are ultimately revelatory (vv.21-22). Our response to them, how we hear, what the reality is in our case. That is, what kind of soil we have proven to be. Everything depends on how we listen (v.23)!
Jesus word, his announcement of Jubilee, as out-of-the-box as it was, provokes a crisis in hearing that reveals our heart. It’s a life-and-death matter as his severe final comment indicates (v.25).