The Parables—A Veiled Language[a]
The Parable of the Sower. 1 On another occasion he began to teach by the side of the lake. However, such a large crowd gathered that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while the whole crowd gathered on the shore facing the lake. 2 Then he taught them many things in parables.
In the course of his teaching, he said to them: 3 “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 As he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Other seed fell on rocky ground, where there was little soil. It sprouted quickly, since the soil had no depth, 6 but when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it lacked roots, it withered away. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it produced no crop. 8 But some seed fell onto rich soil and brought forth grain, increasing and yielding thirty, sixty, and a hundred times what was sown.” 9 He then added, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”
10 The Reason for Parables. When he was alone, the Twelve and his other companions asked him about the parables. 11 He told them, “To you has been granted knowledge of the mysteries[b] of the kingdom of God, but to those outside, everything comes in parables, 12 so that
‘they may look and see but not perceive,
and hear and listen but fail to understand,
lest they be converted and be forgiven.’ ”[c]
13 The Explanation of the Parable of the Sower.[d] He went on to say to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then are you to understand any of the parables? 14 What the sower is sowing is the word.
15 “Some people are like seed that falls along the path where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan immediately comes and carries off the word that has been sown in them.
16 “Others are like the seed sown on rocky ground. As soon as they hear the word they immediately receive it with joy. 17 But they have no deep root and they endure for only a short time. When some trial or tribulation arises on account of the word, they immediately fall away.
18 “Those sown among thorns are the ones who hear the word, 19 but worldly cares, the lure of riches, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it bears no fruit.
20 “But those sown in rich soil are those who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit and yield thirty or sixty or a hundred times what was sown.”
21 The Parable of the Lamp.[e] He said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket or under a bed? To the contrary, it is placed on a lampstand. 22 For nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing is secret that will not be brought to light. 23 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!”
24 The Parable of the Measure.[f] He also told them, “Pay careful attention to what you hear. The measure you give will be the measure you will receive, and you will receive more in addition. 25 To the one who has, more will be given; from the one who does not have, even what little he has will be taken away.”[g]
26 The Parable of the Secretly Growing Seed.[h] He went on to say, “The kingdom of God is like this. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, while he sleeps and while he is awake, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not understand how. 28 The ground produces fruit of its own accord—first the shoot, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. 29 And when the crop is ripe, he immediately stretches out the sickle, because the time for harvest has come.”
30 The Parable of the Mustard Seed.[i] He then said, “With what shall we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable can we use to explain it? 31 It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. 32 But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the greatest of all plants, and it puts forth large branches so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
33 The Usefulness of Parables.[j] With many such parables as these he spoke the word to them so far as they were able to comprehend it. 34 He never spoke to them except in parables, but he explained everything to his disciples when they were by themselves.
Jesus Overcomes Evil and Effects Salvation[k]
35 Jesus Calms the Storm.[l] On that day, as evening approached, he said to them, “Let us cross over to the other side.” 36 And so, leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat just as he was. Some other boats joined them.
37 Suddenly, a great storm came up, and the waves were crashing over the boat so that it was almost swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion. They awakened him and said, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
39 Then he stood up and rebuked the wind, and he said to the sea, “Quiet! Be still!” The wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you so frightened? Are you still without faith?” 41 They were filled with awe and said to one another, “Who can this be? Even the wind and the sea obey him.”
- Mark 4:1 Mark has, so to speak, his own “theory of parables,” which he here places on the lips of Jesus. In his view, parables were and remained enigmatic: their meaning was clear only to the disciples, those who really “heard” Jesus (“hear” is the key word in these texts) and believed in him. See notes on Mt 13:1-51; 13:3a; 13:3b-9; 13:10-15.
- Mark 4:11 Mysteries: see note on Mt 13:11.
- Mark 4:12 The citation is from Isa 6:9-10. Acts (28:26-27) and Romans (11:7-16, 29-32) cite the same passage of Isaiah to show that the rejection by the people of the Covenant had been foretold and that God’s plan cannot be checkmated by the defection of human beings. It is not that God wants them to reject the word. They do that on their own because they do not want to receive God’s forgiveness.
- Mark 4:13 See note on Mt 13:18-23.
- Mark 4:21 Just as a lamp is placed to provide light, not to hide it, so Jesus, the light of the world, is destined to be revealed.
- Mark 4:24 As an example of the way in which the sayings of Jesus were handed on, we may observe that the parable about measure is applied here to the reception of the “word,” but is used in Matthew (7:2) and Luke (6:38) with reference to judgment of one’s brother or sister.
- Mark 4:25 To the one who has, more will be given. . . : one of the meanings of this text is that those who appropriate the truth more will receive more truth in the future; however, those who do not respond to what little truth they may know already will not profit even from that amount.
- Mark 4:26 This parable, the only one peculiar to Mark, illustrates his idea of the power of the Gospel. The term harvest is an image of the judgment (see Joel 4:13; Rev 14:15).
- Mark 4:30 See notes on Mt 13:31-32 and 13:32.
- Mark 4:33 These words mitigate and partly explain the warning in v. 12. Jesus with his parables adapted himself to the imaginative eastern mentality, without running afoul of the susceptibility of that people who were still stubbornly attached to the idea of a triumphal Messiah. He offered the possibility of reflections and further elucidations.
- Mark 4:35 The so-called “Parables of the Lake” are followed by a characteristic grouping of four miracles, which demonstrate the evangelist’s Christological intention. With his merciful power, Jesus appears as the Master of natural elements, demons, sickness, and death itself. The section gives a very accurate selection of prodigies worked by the Savior. The accounts are possibly pre-Marcan, and they have been endowed by the evangelist with a particularly vivid narrative taken from the preaching of Peter. These are the so-called “Miracles of the Lake.”
- Mark 4:35 See note on Mt 8:23-27.