Mark has been showing us Jesus in a rapid succession of Jesus stories. Mark has told us about Jesus healing people, Mark has told us about Jesus calling on people to follow him and today Mark is telling us about Jesus and some of the ways Jesus teaches. Specifically, Jesus teaching with a parable. A story that teaches important ideas by using commonly understood concepts.[audio http://www.buzzsprout.com/33052/343068-parables-schmarables.mp3]
One of the challenges with this parable is hearing about the sower. I mean really, this guy (presumably) is throwing seed all over the place. A pretty random way to plant, especially in light of technology used today that is highly accurate and efficient. Even though in Jesus’ day they didn’t have the benefit of GPS technology you have to believe they knew better than to just sling seed around hoping it landed on good soil. An idea that shapes our understanding of what this parable is teaching.
If you’ve been around church very long you’ve probably heard the story or parable of the sower a time or two. I always associate it with a stewardship or capital campaign for a building project. The way I’ve generally heard it told is that it kind of plays out like asking us to make a decision to be good soil and use our money to be a good foundation for the next (fill in the blank with whatever building project) so that the church can look nice and grow. Choose to use your money for churchy stuff and you will be considered good soil!
That almost makes it sound like we decide which soil we’re going to be. “Choose to be the good soil, good people of Spirit of Hope! Get your heads around being good and all will be well as you do all the good things. Choose to be the good soil!” Well, guess what, we don’t have quite that much power over ourselves. If we get it into our heads that we can choose to be the good soil from which all kinds of amazing things happen, we have deluded ourselves.
Not only have we deluded ourselves but we commit heresy when we believe and teach that the decision to be good soil is ours to make. Historically heresy, that is believing and teaching that goes against what the church believes and teaches, was not well received. Heretics were burned at the stake, which doesn’t seem all that much fun.
We don’t do that burning at the stake too often now, thank heavens, but heresy is still problematic. If we teach things like the idea that we choose to be good soil then we’ve cut God out of the equation. If we promote the idea that we choose to be good soil then we have set ourselves before God. Cutting God out of the equation and setting ourselves before God seems like a bad thing, don’t you think?
On the other hand, if we look at this parable from God’s perspective we begin to see that perhaps we are not the soil attempting to make ourselves better and since we are not so hard at work being better we can be more receptive to where God is leading us. Instead, look at it this way. Read this story as we are the sower, slinging seed all over creation. We’re out and about, running around doing good things and trying new things here and there as we wait for the coming Kingdom of God. We may be out planting seeds but it is God who breaks into our world, it is God who breaks into our life and makes things grow. It is God who makes all the difference in the world.
Which is a good thing because left up to us, humans have a tendency to make some wrong choices. Have you made any wrong choices this past week? That’s kind of how it works. Fortunately, the Kingdom of God is not left up to our choices but what God will make grow.
So it is with our faith. Faith isn’t something we decide on. Faith is not our choice. We don’t wake up one day and decide that we’ll be faithful followers of Christ. Faith is the gift of God that becomes manifest in who we are and all that we do as the power of the Holy Spirit within us responds to God’s call on our lives. We may wake up one day and decide that we’ll act on the faith that God has given us but faith is still the gift of God.
There is a lot of confusion about faith, I think. It’s something of a fuzzy, messy concept. You can’t go to the store and pick up a gallon of Holy Spirit and a loaf of faith. So we rely on story tellers to help us out. I like Mark’s description of faith and mustard seeds better than Matthew (17:20) or Luke (17:6). In Matthew and Luke Jesus makes the point that if you had faith the size of a mustard seed you could move a mountain or cast a mulberry tree into the ocean.
That’s a vivid description, well enough. But it begs the question about our faith. You are faithful people. You have faith, even on days when it seems otherwise and we all have those days. If you weren’t faithful you wouldn’t be here. In your life, how many mountains have you moved and how many mulberry questions have you cast into the ocean? What? None? How can that be if you have faith?
Here’s the thing. We usually think of our faith being lacking someway if we haven’t moved a mountain or uprooted a tree into the ocean lately. I think what Jesus is telling us is that if we believe it to be OUR faith then yes, we’ll come up short and by our strength we won’t be moving any mountains or launching any trees. Instead, faith is the gift of God and as God’s gift and through God’s strength we do amazing things. It is God’s work that is in the middle of everything and making good things happen.
Well then, that’s a relief, isn’t it? We’re off the hook. We don’t have to do anything. God will take care of it all. Right? Right? God chooses us, God gives us the gift of faith and so now what? We’re going to hide all that?
Yeah, not so fast.
This is where the lamp under the bushel basket in v21 comes into play. These stories reveal the truth of God and we are likewise called to reveal the truth of God. This is light of Christ stuff. It doesn’t boil down to heresy and doctrine, it boils down to Bringing Christ’s Love to Life. It ties back to part of what we talked about last week and figuring out ways to share our faith so others can see the love and light of Christ.
This is God’s work. This is God’s gift of faith. It’s up to us to point to the light of Christ.