Jesus said to his disciples, “Is a lamp brought in to be placed under a bushel basket or under a bed, and not to be placed on a lampstand? For there is nothing hidden except to be made visible; nothing is secret except to come to light. Anyone who has ears to hear ought to hear.” He also told them, “Take care what you hear. The measure with which you measure will be measured out to you, and still more will be given to you. To the one who has, more will be given; from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”Mark 4:21-25
The pair of maxims about hearing, “Whoever has ears to hear ought to hear” (Mark 4:9) and “Anyone who has ears to hear ought to hear” (Mark 4:23) circumscribe Jesus’ intimation to his disciples that “The mystery of the kingdom of God has been granted to you” (Mark 4:11). They are to be his lamps and seers making manifest the secrets of the kingdom of God veiled in parables. “For there is nothing hidden except to be made visible; nothing is secret except to come to light” (Mark 4:22).
Sandwiched between the sayings about hearing and hidden mysteries, Jesus explained the meaning of the Parable of the Sower, training his disciples in contemplative prayer and listening. This is the parable of parables—a metaparable—the key to unlocking the mystery hidden in all parables.
Jesus said to them, “Do you not understand this parable?
Then how will you understand any of the parables?
The following principles emerge from the Parable of the Sower:
Seed Sown on the Path
“The sower sows the word. These are the ones on the path where the word is sown. As soon as they hear, Satan comes at once and takes away the word sown in them.”Mark 4:14-15
The soil of the spirit must have depth for the word to take root. The evil one snatches the seed from shallow hearts.
Seed Sown on Rocky Ground
“And these are the ones sown on rocky ground who, when they hear the word, receive it at once with joy. But they have no root; they last only for a time. Then when tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.”Mark 4:16-17
Initial elation upon hearing the word is not an index of profound reception. Fleeting, fleshly emotions (psuchikos in 1 Corinthians 2:14) are a poor indicator of discipleship. Enduring faith like “fire-tried gold” enables one to deal with hardship and suffering (1 Peter 1:7).
Seed Sown Among Thorns
“Those sown among thorns are another sort. They are the people who hear the word, but worldly anxiety, the lure of riches, and the craving for other things intrude and choke the word, and it bears no fruit.”Mark 4:18-19
Worldly cares, riches, and desires for temporal goods “choke the word” and render it ineffective.
Seed Sown on Rich Soil
“But those sown on rich soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.”Mark 4:20
The word flourishes in persons who seek God above all things, are detached from worldly cares and possessions, and cultivate profound silence in the heart to receive the silent Word in the Spirit.
Christ’s lamps in the world must shine “on a lampstand” and not hide under a bowl (basket) or a bed. They are called to be fruitful and generous with what they hear, for “To the one who has, more will be given; from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away” (Mark 4:25).
As the lives of Christ’s disciples unfold, they reveal the effect of God’s word on rich soil. Flawed, imperfect human beings are transformed into the bountiful vineyard of the Lord. “For behold, the kingdom of God is among you” (Luke 17:21). And “The mystery of the kingdom of God has been granted to you” (Mark 4:11).