Summary Mark Chapter 4

Most of Chapter 4 is filled with parables; in particular, the Parable of the Sower, which takes up well over half the chapter.

While the Sower is the medium, the real message is the Kingdom of God. We are told, in a number of different ways, what the Kingdom of God is, or at least what it’s like. But only to a degree, because what we are told is that the kingdom is growing. It’s like a seed, a mustard seed, that will grow to be a big, capacious shrub.

More, like a seed, the Kingdom of God grows on its own. It happens automatically.

What we are not told, is how this has happened. Or how the Kingdom of God has grown, or will grow. We are not told what we have to do, or if there is anything we should do to hasten, or at least abet the process. Nor are we told how we join, how we become God’s subjects. Are we to assume that we are automatically part of it?

Probably not, because we are told at Jesus deliberately spoke in parables so that people would not understand. What is the purpose behind this? You proclaim the Kingdom, and then don’t tell people about it? And you do this on purpose?

Here, perhaps, is where a couple of different interpretations of Jesus may have been stitched together. IOW, it’s another seam. The two ideas are not wholly compatible. One explanation is that Jesus is testing our faith, or our desire to understand. Perhaps. But, think back to Paul: faith, obviously, was a big issue for him. And he seems, genuinely, to bend over backwards to help people understand what they need to do. It’s simple for Paul: have faith. But here we get none of that.

Here, what we need is not faith, but understanding. Or–dare I say it?–knowledge. Gnosis.  In Chapter 4, the key to understanding what is going on is, well, knowledge. Not faith. So the material here, at least, seems to belong to a tradition, or an interpretation somewhat different from Paul’s. Here we seem to be on a path that intersects, at least once in a while, with the ideas of Gnosticism: knowledge, and especially secret knowledge, that has to be explained in private because it’s not always immediately understandable.

And then, the climax, is a revelation, so that we know. We get the act of a demi-god, calming the storm. This simply gives the game away: there can be no doubt, no lack of understanding for us, because it is completely clear.

To be clear, I do not think Mark was a Gnostic. In fact, I think he did not completely approve of the whole ‘secret knowledge’ that is the sine qua non of Gnosticism. However, this thread was in the stories that came down to him. He used these threads, but he found a way, here, to be sure to tell us who Jesus really was. He is, contrary to what became Gnostic practice, letting his entire audience in on the secret. He will do that from time to time. For example, the Transfiguration is nothing if not Mark telling us, in no uncertain terms, who Jesus really is.


About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on February 8, 2013, in gospel commentary, gospels, mark's gospel, Summary and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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