Year B Proper 6 Mark 4
The Kingdom and the Seed
Mark 4:26-34

Most of us have planted a garden or lived on or near a farm. In my case, I grew up in Chicago where they have to put cows in zoos because so many city people are shielded from agricultural life and would never otherwise get to see one. But for eleven years I served as the pastor of a church in the agriculturally-oriented community of Davenport, Iowa. Davenport is located in Scott County which is Mississippi River land. It is reported to be some of the richest soil in the world. I learned a lot about farming while living there. I learned about soil and seeds. I learned about the need for cooperation and balance between the various parts of nature - the sun, the soil, and the rain. Having returned recently from a trip to Iowa, I was very mindful of the soil. As we drove along the highway we saw some fields which were completely washed away, others that were too dry. For all farmers, life is intricately linked to the soil. Having some agricultural background is helpful when it comes to looking at the three parables of the soils and the kingdom in the fourth chapter of the Gospel of Mark.

The first such parable is called the Parable of the Sower (4:4-20). There are four different kinds of soil, Jesus said,

  • hard soil (a path);
  • rocky ground;
  • thorny ground; and
  • good soil.
People, Jesus said, are like those four kinds of soil. The Word of God is the seed which falls into four different kinds of soil.

The second parable in the fourth chapter of Mark is the parable of the harvest (4:26-29). The seed grows as the farmer goes about his work day by day. The day comes when the grain is ripe. Then comes the harvest. We must live with a knowledge that for each of us there will be a harvest day, a time of death, and a time of astounding change. Who would guess the wonders of heaven having seen the original seed of life?

The third parable about soil is the parable of the mustard seed (4:30-32). The Kingdom of God, like the mustard seed, starts small, but grows into a large shrub with many branches.

These parables of the soil are designed to take the familiar and use it to show something new. New perspectives are thus encouraged. New Kingdom participation is encouraged...

The Third Ear and the Imagination of Jesus
Mark 4:26-34

Every morning the early local newscast reports on how good or bad the "daily commute" is going. Strategically perched cameras and computer generated models show whether there is clear sailing or clogged arterials on the major commute-routes. Seattle is a city consistently in the Top 10 for its gelatinous traffic jams - the LA freeway is a breezeway compared to Seattle's Route 5 most of the time. And the Seattle newscasters like to keep minute-by-minute track of how slow you can go.

Now it takes 20 minutes longer than normal - wait!
No, it just climbed to 22 minutes longer.
Okay, make that 23 minutes, above the average drive-time to go from Point A to Point B.

These days our commuting time can be put to productive work. Your commuting time can be used to practice new language skills, or test the effectiveness of your blood pressure medication, or boost your caffeine intake with some double Venti mocha mash-up mix. As more people keep smashing into things while talking or texting on their mobile phones, more states keep passing stricter anti-cell-phone legislation. If you've got a hands-free phone you can still talk. But since that time of day everyone else you want to talk to is stuck in traffic with you, it's hard for anyone really to get much work done.

But there are other ways to use your commute. The strip of asphalt you are stuck on, or if you are transit commuter the interior of your bus or train, might not look too impressive, but it is a big part of your everyday existence.

What do you see from your car window?
What does your world look like?
What is that world telling you?

Jesus was a commuter. He commuted to work just like we do. For at least fifteen years Jesus worked as a "tekton." We like to translate that word as "carpenter," but it really means "builder" or "day laborer." If you've ever been to the "Holy Land," you'll laugh when I ask you this question: "How many trees did you see over there?"

Jesus didn't just work in wood. In the 1st century they didn't specialize that we do today. He wasn't just a "carpenter." Rather like all builders in that part of the world in the first century, Jesus worked with three media: mostly with stone, some with metal, and to a lesser extent with wood. Where would he have plied his trade as a builder? Most likely not in Nazareth, a dirt-poor small provincial village of no more than 400 people who lived in small stone dwellings.

No, most likely Jesus worked as a builder in Tzippori (Greek "Sepphoris"), about three miles from the village of Nazareth. During the first 30 years of Jesus life, there were constant, large construction projects going on in the cosmopolitan city known as Sepphoris - both Roman and Jewish. When Herod Antipas was made Tetrach of the region in 1 CE, he started rebuilding and expanding the town he renamed "Autocratis" - or "the Ornament of the Galilee." For any tekton, any builder, Sepphoris was work-central. And not unlike today, when every major city is known by its stadiums, one of the first things Herod Antipas wanted to build was the theater. Could it be that Jesus learned the secrets of megaphoning sound from his work on building the theater?

From Nazareth, Sepphoris was a 15 minute horse-back ride, or an hour walk. Most likely Jesus spent two hours a day walking to and from Sepphoris. What did Jesus do on his daily commute? How did he spend his time commuting?

He became a keen observer of the countryside... presents Leonard Sweet