May 26th Mark 4b “Lamp stands and Mustard Seeds”

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

As we continue on with the parables, Jesus makes it clear that we already know many good and simple lessons from daily life.  He shows that the truth about God and righteous behavior are not all that different from some of the lessons we have already learned. 

Christian teaching is very often built on “common sense” and the powers of reason and wisdom.

There are many tasks that prepare us for the deeper truth of life.  Simple things like gardening, cleaning house, or tending sheep relate to God’s kingdom.  Simple feelings of hope, sadness, sorrow, and joy can teach you something of God’s kingdom.  We are usually told about the relationship of God to people in terms of family relationships and friendship.  Simple household chores are often the source of profound lessons.  Jesus also points to lessons from nature relating to things like birds, sheep, fields of wheat, grape vines, and fruit trees.

You can’t assume that every part of nature or daily life reflects God’s kingdom because the world is sometimes cruel or distorted by sin and evil, but the good lessons are there if Jesus guides you to them.

Mark contains many examples of this kind of teaching.

Mark 4:21-34

He said to them, “Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on its stand?  For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear.”

This is basic common sense.  If you go to the trouble to lighting a lamp, you put it someplace where it can shed the most light.  The oil lamps of the time were very dim, so you could not count on them to flood a room with light.  If you desire a light, you want it to see where you are stepping, or for tasks like reading, sewing, or sorting clothes.  Even in the ancient world, there was a strong connection between the ideas of light and truth.  So, if you seek truth, use it to see where you are and what you are doing.  If you follow seek truth, you won’t be lost in darkness and confusion.

“Consider carefully what you hear,” he continued. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more.  Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.”

This is related to the measures (cups, scales, rulers, etc.) used by merchants, which were not always fair.  From merchant to merchant, you could be treated fairly, cheated, or you could even benefit from generosity.  So, Jesus is saying if you cheat people, you will be cheated even more.  If you are fair, you will be dealt with fairly.  If you are generous, you will receive back even more.  So, generous people will have plenty while cheaters will be left with nothing.

He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground.  Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.  All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head.  As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”

If we do what its right, we are not required to understand how it later benefits us.  Our task is to do what is right (like a farmer planting seed).  We don’t need to know everything that happens to be able to benefit from God’s grace.  As most people who drive cars don’t fully understand how engines, transmissions, and axle’s work, we can accept some benefits that are beyond our understanding.  The main goal is to be faithful in our duties and relationships.

Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”

This parable is usually assumed to be about faith.  God plants a tiny seed of faith in our lives.  We have some small experience of God’s grace in some word or action.  Once that tiny seed faith is planted, it can thrive and grow into something so big that it is a life changing source of comfort and joy. 

Some people get confused by the fact that there are smaller seeds than mustard seeds, but Jesus was not instructing us in horticulture.  Don’t expect the Bible to be more than it intends to be.  Bibles contain historical events but are not history books.  Bibles mention food, but are not cook books.  Bibles mention birds, but they can’t help you discern a hawk from an eagle or a pigeon from a parakeet.

With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand.  He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about parables is that they usually have more than one or two lessons to teach.  I have given a few simple explanations of these parables, but they always benefit from a second look.   Feel free to ask as many questions as the parable allows. As an example, let’s go back to the parable of the lamp:

“Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on its stand?  For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear.”

So, we have a lamp to light a room.  Do we take it literally… or do we say that the light is truth?  Is the room a symbol for our life in the world with others or is it an image of our own souls?  Are we shining truth in other people’s lives… or are we shining truth to look at the dark thoughts we keep in our own minds?  Is the parable about letting our light shine for others or becoming illuminated inside?   Or are we the lamp that shares truth with others?  Or are we the lamp stand that allows others to share their light?  You can even ponder in what ways you have been a basket that has been limiting the light of others.

This is how parables can work on us if we give them thought.  We could go to extremes and say that Jesus is the light and the lamp stand is either the cross or heaven itself.  So, you see parables are wonderful gateways to ponder what is holy.

A Question To Ponder:  Think about the Parable of the Mustard Seed.  What would it mean if the mustard seed represents something other than faith, like a simple act of kindness or a word of hope?

Blessings.

Pastor Rick