Mark 4.1–9: The parable of the sower – or the soil? (1 February 2020)

Bible Society's Daily Reflections follow the M'Cheyne Bible reading plan, designed for those who want to read the whole Bible in one year. Each reflection focuses on one of its four daily chapters. Darllenwch rhain yn Gymraeg.

Pray

Pray

Lord, prepare me to receive your word. Clear my mind and warm my heart. Assure me of your loving purposes for me, and speak into my life today.

Read

Read

Jacob Meets Esau

1Jacob saw Esau coming with his 400 men, so he divided the children among Leah, Rachel, and the two concubines. 2He put the concubines and their children first, then Leah and her children, and finally Rachel and Joseph at the rear. 3Jacob went ahead of them and bowed down to the ground seven times as he approached his brother. 4But Esau ran to meet him, threw his arms round him, and kissed him. They were both crying. 5When Esau looked round and saw the women and the children, he asked, “Who are these people with you?”

“These, sir, are the children whom God has been good enough to give me,” Jacob answered. 6Then the concubines came up with their children and bowed down; 7then Leah and her children came, and last of all Joseph and Rachel came and bowed down.

8Esau asked, “What about that other group I met? What did that mean?”

Jacob answered, “It was to gain your favour.”

9But Esau said, “I have enough, my brother; keep what you have.”

10Jacob said, “No, please, if I have gained your favour, accept my gift. To see your face is for me like seeing the face of God, now that you have been so friendly to me. 11Please accept this gift which I have brought for you; God has been kind to me and given me everything I need.” Jacob kept on urging him until he accepted.

12Esau said, “Let's prepare to leave. I will go ahead of you.”

13Jacob answered, “You know that the children are weak, and I must think of the sheep and cattle with their young. If they are driven hard for even one day, the whole herd will die. 14Please go on ahead of me, and I will follow slowly, going as fast as I can with the livestock and the children until I catch up with you in Edom.”

15Esau said, “Then let me leave some of my men with you.”

But Jacob answered, “There is no need for that for I only want to gain your favour.” 16So that day Esau started on his way back to Edom. 17But Jacob went to Sukkoth, where he built a house for himself and shelters for his livestock. That is why the place was named Sukkoth.

18On his return from Mesopotamia Jacob arrived safely at the city of Shechem in the land of Canaan and set up his camp in a field near the city. 19He bought that part of the field from the descendants of Hamor father of Shechem for a hundred pieces of silver. 20He put up an altar there and named it after El, the God of Israel.

The Parable of the Sower

1Again Jesus began to teach beside Lake Galilee. The crowd that gathered round him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it. The boat was out in the water, and the crowd stood on the shore at the water's edge. 2He used parables to teach them many things, saying to them:

3“Listen! Once there was a man who went out to sow corn. 4As he scattered the seed in the field, some of it fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5Some of it fell on rocky ground, where there was little soil. The seeds soon sprouted, because the soil wasn't deep. 6Then, when the sun came up, it burnt the young plants; and because the roots had not grown deep enough, the plants soon dried up. 7Some of the seed fell among thorn bushes, which grew up and choked the plants, and they didn't produce any corn. 8But some seeds fell in good soil, and the plants sprouted, grew, and produced corn: some had thirty grains, others sixty, and others 100.”

9And Jesus concluded, “Listen, then, if you have ears!”

The Purpose of the Parables

10When Jesus was alone, some of those who had heard him came to him with the twelve disciples and asked him to explain the parables. 11“You have been given the secret of the Kingdom of God,” Jesus answered. “But the others, who are on the outside, hear all things by means of parables, 12so that,

‘They may look and look,

yet not see;

they may listen and listen,

yet not understand.

For if they did, they would turn to God,

and he would forgive them.’ ”

Jesus Explains the Parable of the Sower

13Then Jesus asked them, “Don't you understand this parable? How, then, will you ever understand any parable? 14The sower sows God's message. 15Some people are like the seeds that fall along the path; as soon as they hear the message, Satan comes and takes it away. 16Other people are like the seeds that fall on rocky ground. As soon as they hear the message, they receive it gladly. 17But it does not sink deep into them, and they don't last long. So when trouble or persecution comes because of the message, they give up at once. 18Other people are like the seeds sown among the thorn bushes. These are the ones who hear the message, 19but the worries about this life, the love for riches, and all other kinds of desires crowd in and choke the message, and they don't bear fruit. 20But other people are like the seeds sown in good soil. They hear the message, accept it, and bear fruit: some thirty, some sixty, and some 100.”

A Lamp under a Bowl

21Jesus continued, “Does anyone ever bring in a lamp and put it under a bowl or under the bed? Doesn't he put it on the lampstand? 22Whatever is hidden away will be brought out into the open, and whatever is covered up will be uncovered. 23Listen, then, if you have ears!”

24He also said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear! The same rules you use to judge others will be used by God to judge you — but with even greater severity. 25Those who have something will be given more, and those who have nothing will have taken away from them even the little they have.”

The Parable of the Growing Seed

26Jesus went on to say, “The Kingdom of God is like this. A man scatters seed in his field. 27He sleeps at night, is up and about during the day, and all the while the seeds are sprouting and growing. Yet he does not know how it happens. 28The soil itself makes the plants grow and bear fruit; first the tender stalk appears, then the ear, and finally the ear full of corn. 29When the corn is ripe, the man starts cutting it with his sickle, because harvest time has come.

The Parable of the Mustard Seed

30“What shall we say the Kingdom of God is like?” asked Jesus. “What parable shall we use to explain it? 31It is like this. A man takes a mustard seed, the smallest seed in the world, and plants it in the ground. 32After a while it grows up and becomes the biggest of all plants. It puts out such large branches that the birds come and make their nests in its shade.”

33Jesus preached his message to the people, using many other parables like these; he told them as much as they could understand. 34He would not speak to them without using parables, but when he was alone with his disciples, he would explain everything to them.

Jesus Calms a Storm

35On the evening of that same day Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” 36So they left the crowd; the disciples got into the boat in which Jesus was already sitting, and they took him with them. Other boats were there too. 37Suddenly a strong wind blew up, and the waves began to spill over into the boat, so that it was about to fill with water. 38Jesus was in the back of the boat, sleeping with his head on a pillow. The disciples woke him up and said, “Teacher, don't you care that we are about to die?”

39Jesus stood up and commanded the wind, “Be quiet!” and he said to the waves, “Be still!” The wind died down, and there was a great calm. 40Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Why are you frightened? Have you still no faith?”

41But they were terribly afraid and said to one another, “Who is this man? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

The Jews Destroy their Enemies

1The thirteenth day of Adar came, the day on which the royal proclamation was to take effect, the day when the enemies of the Jews were hoping to get them in their power. But instead, the Jews triumphed over them. 2In the Jewish quarter of every city in the empire the Jews organized themselves to attack anyone who tried to harm them. People everywhere were afraid of them, and no one could stand against them. 3In fact, all the provincial officials — governors, administrators, and royal representatives — helped the Jews because they were all afraid of Mordecai. 4It was well known throughout the empire that Mordecai was now a powerful man in the palace and was growing more powerful. 5So the Jews could do what they wanted with their enemies. They attacked them with swords and slaughtered them.

6In Susa, the capital city itself, the Jews killed 500 people. 7-10Among them were the ten sons of Haman son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews: Parshandatha, Dalphon, Aspatha, Poratha, Adalia, Aridatha, Parmashta, Arisai, Aridai, and Vaizatha. However, there was no looting.

11That same day the number of people killed in Susa was reported to the king. 12He then said to Queen Esther, “In Susa alone the Jews have killed 500 people, including Haman's ten sons. What must they have done out in the provinces! What do you want now? You shall have it. Tell me what else you want, and you shall have it.”

13Esther answered, “If it please Your Majesty, let the Jews in Susa do again tomorrow what they were allowed to do today. And order the bodies of Haman's ten sons to be hung from the gallows.” 14The king ordered this to be done, and the proclamation was issued in Susa. The bodies of Haman's ten sons were publicly displayed. 15On the fourteenth day of Adar the Jews of Susa got together again and killed 300 more people in the city. But again, they did no looting.

16The Jews in the provinces also organized and defended themselves. They rid themselves of their enemies by killing 75,000 people who hated them. But they did no looting. 17This was on the thirteenth day of Adar. On the next day, the fourteenth, there was no more killing, and they made it a joyful day of feasting. 18The Jews of Susa, however, made the fifteenth a holiday, since they had slaughtered their enemies on the thirteenth and fourteenth and then stopped on the fifteenth. 19This is why Jews who live in small towns observe the fourteenth day of the month of Adar as a joyous holiday, a time for feasting and giving gifts of food to one another.

The Festival of Purim

20Mordecai had these events written down and sent letters to all the Jews, near and far, throughout the Persian Empire, 21telling them to observe the fourteenth and fifteenth days of Adar as holidays every year. 22These were the days on which the Jews had rid themselves of their enemies; this was a month that had been turned from a time of grief and despair into a time of joy and happiness. They were told to observe these days with feasts and parties, giving gifts of food to one another and to the poor. 23So the Jews followed Mordecai's instructions, and the celebration became an annual custom.

24Haman son of Hammedatha — the descendant of Agag and the enemy of the Jewish people — had cast lots (or “purim”, as they were called) to determine the day for destroying the Jews; he had planned to wipe them out. 25But Esther went to the king, and the king issued written orders with the result that Haman suffered the fate he had planned for the Jews — he and his sons were hanged from the gallows. 26That is why the holidays are called Purim. Because of Mordecai's letter and because of all that had happened to them, 27the Jews made it a rule for themselves, their descendants, and anyone who might become a Jew, that at the proper time each year these two days would be regularly observed according to Mordecai's instructions. 28It was resolved that every Jewish family of every future generation in every province and every city should remember and observe the days of Purim for all time to come.

29Then Queen Esther, the daughter of Abihail, along with Mordecai, also wrote a letter, putting her full authority behind the letter about Purim, which Mordecai had written earlier. 30The letter was addressed to all the Jews, and copies were sent to all the 127 provinces of the Persian Empire. It wished the Jews peace and security 31and directed them and their descendants to observe the days of Purim at the proper time, just as they had adopted rules for the observance of fasts and times of mourning. This was commanded by both Mordecai and Queen Esther. 32Esther's command, confirming the rules for Purim, was written down on a scroll.

The Greatness of Xerxes and Mordecai

1King Xerxes imposed forced labour on the people of the coastal regions of his empire as well as on those of the interior. 2All the great and wonderful things he did, as well as the whole story of how he promoted Mordecai to high office, are recorded in the official records of the kings of Persia and Media. 3Mordecai the Jew was second in rank only to King Xerxes himself. He was honoured and well liked by his fellow-Jews. He worked for the good of his people and for the security of all their descendants.

The Example of Abraham

1What shall we say, then, of Abraham, the father of our race? What was his experience? 2If he was put right with God by the things he did, he would have something to boast about — but not in God's sight. 3The scripture says, “Abraham believed God, and because of his faith God accepted him as righteous.” 4Those who work are paid wages, but they are not regarded as a gift; they are something that has been earned. 5But those who depend on faith, not on deeds, and who believe in the God who declares the guilty to be innocent, it is this faith that God takes into account in order to put them right with himself. 6This is what David meant when he spoke of the happiness of the person whom God accepts as righteous, apart from anything that person does:

7“Happy are those whose wrongs are forgiven,

whose sins are pardoned!

8Happy is the person whose sins the Lord will not keep account of!”

9Does this happiness that David spoke of belong only to those who are circumcised? No indeed! It belongs also to those who are not circumcised. For we have quoted the scripture, “Abraham believed God, and because of his faith God accepted him as righteous.” 10When did this take place? Was it before or after Abraham was circumcised? It was before, not after. 11He was circumcised later, and his circumcision was a sign to show that because of his faith God had accepted him as righteous before he had been circumcised. And so Abraham is the spiritual father of all who believe in God and are accepted as righteous by him, even though they are not circumcised. 12He is also the father of those who are circumcised, that is, of those who, in addition to being circumcised, also live the same life of faith that our father Abraham lived before he was circumcised.

God's Promise is Received through Faith

13When God promised Abraham and his descendants that the world would belong to him, he did so, not because Abraham obeyed the Law, but because he believed and was accepted as righteous by God. 14For if what God promises is to be given to those who obey the Law, then faith means nothing and God's promise is worthless. 15The Law brings down God's anger; but where there is no law, there is no disobeying of the law.

16And so the promise was based on faith, in order that the promise should be guaranteed as God's free gift to all of Abraham's descendants — not just to those who obey the Law, but also to those who believe as Abraham did. For Abraham is the spiritual father of us all; 17as the scripture says, “I have made you father of many nations.” So the promise is good in the sight of God, in whom Abraham believed — the God who brings the dead to life and whose command brings into being what did not exist. 18Abraham believed and hoped, even when there was no reason for hoping, and so became “the father of many nations.” Just as the scripture says, “Your descendants will be as many as the stars.” 19He was then almost 100 years old; but his faith did not weaken when he thought of his body, which was already practically dead, or of the fact that Sarah could not have children. 20His faith did not leave him, and he did not doubt God's promise; his faith filled him with power, and he gave praise to God. 21He was absolutely sure that God would be able to do what he had promised. 22That is why Abraham, through faith, “was accepted as righteous by God”. 23The words “he was accepted as righteous” were not written for him alone. 24They were written also for us who are to be accepted as righteous, who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from death. 25Because of our sins he was handed over to die, and he was raised to life in order to put us right with God.

Reflect

Daily Reflection: Mark 4.1–9

The Parable of the Sower is one of the best-known of all Jesus' stories. It's graphic and powerful, with a simple message: some people will respond to the word of God and some will not, because they are hard, shallow or easily tempted. It explains a lot about why proclaiming the gospel can be so hard and why we can see so few rewards.

It also raises a good number of questions. Why are some people 'good soil' – is it their upbringing, or something built in to their natures? After a quick reading, the parable might be thought of as being rather bleak: people just are what they are, and if they happen to be the kind of person that isn't interested in religion, that's just too bad.

There may be a practical point here about where Christians might direct their evangelistic resources – some audiences are 'warmer' towards faith than others. But we mustn't forget a broader point: that God never gives up on anyone.

One of the very first images we have of God is that he is a gardener. Gardeners cultivate the soil to make it more receptive to the seed and more fertile. Hard ground can be softened; shallow soil can be enriched; weeds can be pulled out.

We're called to be co-workers with God. How can we work in our own culture to prepare the ground for his word?

Pray

Pray

God, show me where I can help to ease someone's burden or take away the cares that keep them from Christ. Show me how I can change a small part of the world to make it more receptive to your words of life.

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