Jesus Teaches in Parables

Mark 4:1-20

Parallel Texts: Matthew 13:1-23; Luke 8:1-15

With the beginning of chapter four, we see a shift in Mark’s narrative into a battery of parables. Parables are interesting things, little stories that teach a moral lesson. They are not literal, and the stories themselves are not intended to be understood literally; they are instead, metaphors. The literal interpretation, for you literal fans, of a parable is that it is a metaphor… just so we are clear.

Teachers use parables to teach moral lessons in a non-threatening way, so that each listener may perceive the part of the parable that applies to his or her situation, without the teacher needing to point fingers at any certain individual, which enables the lesson to sink in more deeply than if it needed to be filtered through a defensive perimeter. Jesus made frequent use of parables, but He is certainly not alone in doing so; there are parables in both the Old and New Testaments, used by multiple writers, as well as in secular history. In American history, Abraham Lincoln is especially famous for his clever us of parables in both legal and political argumentation. Indeed, modern-day speakers still use parables in their teaching; Ronald Reagan was known to make frequent use of them, for instance.

The parable of the sower is the first in this series, and is commonly known in churches today. For our purposes, I’ll let you read the text and then we’ll talk about Jesus’ explanation when you get back…

Jesus explains His parable to a smaller group after His teaching session from the boat beginning in verse 10.  Isn’t it interesting that He begins to explain by quoting Isaiah 6? Jesus ties all of this to His preaching on the Kingdom. For those who are outside of His Kingdom, these matters will be a mystery, but for those within His kingdom, they will be plain, and now the Isaiah quote.  Doesn’t this remind you of Paul’s discussion of how the things of God are but “foolishness” to the world, and the wisdom of this world is but foolishness to God?

Jesus goes on to elaborate on His metaphor, by describing the various soils that the farmer’s seed contacts, how the birds gobble up the seed on the path, and the lack of roots in the rocky soil and how that causes the seed to sprout quickly and then shrivel and die when the hot sun shines down on the young plants. Then He points out how the seed that falls in good soil develops roots and withstands the sun, growing to maturity.

I’ve heard countless sermons that focus on the rocky soil and that have gone on to discuss those who come to faith, are very excited and then fall away. I haven’t had the pleasure of listening to very many who actually noticed the fact that in verse 11, Jesus tied this into a Kingdom context. His focus wasn’t so much on the products of the rocky soil, but rather on what happens in good soil: Those seeds grow to maturity, and then produce more seeds. Some seeds produce 30 new seeds, or 60, or even 100. These are His disciples, who in turn produce more disciples for the Kingdom, some 30, some 60, and some 100. Disciples who make more disciples are the object of all of this, not the rocky soil and falling away…

What kind of soil are we planted in? Can a mentor (disciple) work with that soil and remove the rocks that are in the soil of a “younger” brother?

Interesting question, wouldn’t you say?

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About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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15 Responses to Jesus Teaches in Parables

  1. paulfg says:

    “Can a mentor (disciple) work with that soil and remove the rocks that are in the soil of a “younger” brother?”

    And as both work the soil the younger brother allows the mentor to find their own hidden rocks – if the mentor allows it (which is just disciples at play)

  2. GP Cox says:

    I don’t understand why he taught in parables – they not only need explaining, but they can be taken in too many ways.

    • Don Merritt says:

      Funny you should mention that: At one point in Matthew’s account, the disciples asked about the very same thing you mention, and the aswer was (short version) that people who are disposed to hear the message will get it, and those who are not so disposed won’t understand anything He said because they don’t want to.

  3. I wrote a book last summer about a composite man who lived through most of Jesus’ parables over a period of 45 years ~ “The Samaritan’s Quest”. Although sometimes it rank in the 1000s, I have often seen it rank in the 20s in its category. (Rankings change by the hour at Amazon). I had one editor of two religious magazines buy a copy, but tell me, “You understand I don’t have time to read it.” Two days later she contacted me and said, “I couldn’t put it down,” then ordered seven more copies for family members.

  4. Kitsy says:

    I wish Jesus had brought up seeds/plants that exist in the desert; after many months, if not years, of scorching dry conditions, a little bit of rain will nourish and encourage flowers you never knew were there.

    In the examples of rocky soil and plants choked out by weeds, is all hope lost?

    My mother was Episcopalian; my father was raised Baptist. They found common ground in the Presbyterian Church because of the teachings on the ‘chosen few.’ They believed people were pre-destined to be either good (read: saved) or bad (read: condemned). Because of my less-than-exemplary behavior in college, my parents thought I was lost…seed sown on rocky soil. Truth be told, I believed it myself and never felt I belonged in the presence of God.

    I am now 60 and believe that I am finally bearing fruit. Throughout my life there have been glimpses that God was working in my life, but for the most part, I was choking on weeds.

    I will not find fault with the teachings of Jesus, but I think there is evidence elsewhere in His teachings that, despite Presbyterian doctrine, no one is lost and can not be found. Some seeds thrive in poor soil.

    I believe there is hope for us all. God, forgive me if I am wrong.

    • Don Merritt says:

      That particular (Calvinist) teaching has done a great deal of harm to a great many people!

      • dwmartens says:

        “I wish Jesus had brought up seeds/plants that exist in the desert; after many months, if not years, of scorching dry conditions, a little bit of rain will nourish and encourage flowers you never knew were there. ”

        Though out of context, the following came to mind:

        Job 14:8-9 (NIV)
        8 Its roots may grow old in the ground and its stump die in the soil,
        9 yet at the scent of water it will bud and put forth shoots like a plant.

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