Scripture: Mark 4:1-20 (alternate reading for Feast of the Conversion of Paul the Apostle: Mark 16:15-18)1 Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea; and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. 2 And he taught them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: 3 "Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. 5 Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it had not much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil; 6 and when the sun rose it was scorched, and since it had no root it withered away. 7 Other seed fell among thorns and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. 8 And other seeds fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty fold and sixty fold and a hundredfold." 9 And he said, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."
10 And when he was alone, those who were about him with the twelve asked him concerning the parables. 11 And he said to them, "To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables; 12 so that they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand; lest they should turn again, and be forgiven."
13 And he said to them, "Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? 14 The sower sows the word. 15 And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown; when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word which is sown in them. 16 And these in like manner are the ones sown upon rocky ground, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; 17 and they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. 18 And others are the ones sown among thorns; they are those who hear the word, 19 but the cares of the world, and the delight in riches, and the desire for other things, enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 20 But those that were sown upon the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty fold and sixty fold and a hundredfold."Meditation: Why did Jesus speak to people in parables? Like the rabbis of his time, Jesus used simple word-pictures, called parables, to help people understand who God is and what his kingdom or reign is like. Jesus used images and characters taken from everyday life to create a miniature play or drama to illustrate his message. This was Jesus' most common way of teaching. His stories appealed to the young and old, poor and rich, and to the learned and unlearned as well. Over a third of the Gospels by Matthew, Mark, and Luke contain parables told by Jesus.
Cyril of Alexandria (150-215 AD ), an early church teacher, described the purpose of Jesus' parables:
"Parables are word pictures not of visible things, but rather of things of the mind and the spirit. That which cannot be seen with the eyes of the body, a parable will reveal to the eyes of the mind, informing the subtlety of the intellect by means of things perceivable by the senses, and as it were tangible." (COMMENTARY ON THE GOSPEL OF LUKE 8.5.4)Parable of the sower
Jesus' parable of the sower is aimed at the hearers of his word.
There are different ways of accepting God's word and they produce
different kinds of fruit accordingly. There is the prejudiced
hearer who has a shut mind. Such a person is unteachable and blind
to what he or she doesn't want to hear. Then there is the shallow
hearer. He or she fails to think things out or think them through;
they lack depth. They may initially respond with an emotional
reaction; but when it wears off their mind wanders to something
Another type of hearer is the person who has many interests or
cares, but who lacks the ability to hear or comprehend what is
truly important. Such a person is too busy to pray or too
preoccupied to study and meditate on God's word.
Then there is the one whose mind is open. Such a person is at all times willing to listen and to learn. He or she is never too proud or too busy to learn. They listen in order to understand. God gives grace to those who hunger for his word that they may understand his will and have the strength to live according to it. Do you hunger for God's word?
Secrets of the kingdom
Why does Jesus say that the secrets of the kingdom of God will be revealed to some while others will not be able to recognize nor understand the kingdom of God (Mark 4:11-12)? Origen (185-254 AD), an early church Bible scholar, comments on why Jesus makes a distinction between those who are ready to hear and understand his message with those who are not ready to hear nor understand:
The Lord Jesus will give us perceiving eyes and listening ears to understand the message of his kingdom if we approach him with faith and humility and the readiness to be taught. The proud cannot see nor hear the truth of God's kingdom because they trust in their own opinion and perception of what is true or real. They have shut their minds to the supernatural truth of God and his word. Do you approach God's word with trust and humility or with doubtful pride and skepticism?"Sometimes it does not turn out to be an advantage for one to be healed quickly or superficially, especially if the disease by this means becomes even more shut up in the internal organs where it rages more fiercely. Therefore God, who perceives secret things and who knows all things before they come to be, in his great goodness delays the healing of such persons and defers the remedy to a later time. If I may speak paradoxically, God heals them by not healing them, lest a premature recovery of health should render them incurable. This pertains to those whom our Lord and Savior addressed as 'those outside,' whose hearts and reins he searches out. Jesus covered up the deeper mysteries of the faith in veiled speech to those who were not yet ready to receive his teaching in straightforward terms. The Lord wanted to prevent the unready from being too speedily converted and only cosmetically healed. If the forgiveness of their sins were too easily obtained, they would soon fall again into the same disorder of sin which they imagined could be cured without any difficulty." (ON FIRST PRINCIPLES 3.1.7)
"Lord Jesus, faith in your word is the way to wisdom, and to ponder your divine plan is to grow in the truth. Open my eyes to your deeds, and my ears to the sound of your call, that I may understand your will for my life and live according to it".
1 I will sing of thy steadfast love, O LORD,
for ever; with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all
3 You have said, "I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn to David my servant:
4 `I will establish your descendants for ever, and build your throne for all generations.'" [Selah]
26 He shall cry to me, `You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation.'
27 And I will make him the first-born, the highest of the kings of the earth.
28 My steadfast love I will keep for him for ever, and my covenant will stand firm for him.
29 I will establish his line for ever and his throne as the days of the heavens.
Daily Quote from the early church fathers: Why does
this generation seek a sign, by John Chrysostom (347-407 AD)
"As the sower fairly and indiscriminately disperses seed broadly over all his field, so does God offer gifts to all,11 making no distinction between rich and poor, wise and foolish, lazy or diligent, brave or cowardly. He addresses everyone, fulfilling his part, although knowing the results beforehand.… Why then, tell me, was so much of the seed lost? Not through the sower, but through the ground that received it—meaning the soul that did not listen.… Even though more seed would be lost than survive, the disciples were not to lose heart. For it is the way of the Lord never to stop sowing the seed, even when he knows beforehand that some of it will not respond. But how can it be reasonable, one asks, to sow among the thorns, or on the rock, or alongside the road? Maybe it is not reasonable insofar as it pertains only to seeds and earth, for the bare rock is not likely to turn into tillable soil, and the roadside will remain roadside and the thorns, thorns. But in the case of free wills and their reasonable instruction, this kind of sowing is praiseworthy. For the rocky soul can in time turn into rich soil. Among souls, the wayside may come no longer to be trampled by all that pass, and may become a fertile field. The thorns may be destroyed and the seed enjoy full growth. For had this not been impossible, this sower would not have sown. And even if no change whatever occurs in the soul, this is no fault of the sower, but of those who are unwilling to be changed. He has done his part." (excerpt from GOSPEL OF ST. MATTHEW, HOMILY 44.5.1)
Scripture quotations from Common Bible:
Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright
1973, and Ignatius Edition of the Revised Standard
Version of the Bible, copyright 2006, by the
Division of Christian Education of the National
Council of the Churches of Christ in the United
States of America. Used by permission. All rights
reserved. Citation references for quotes from
the writings of the early church fathers can be
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