He said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under the bushel basket, or under the bed, and not on the lampstand? 22 For there is nothing hidden, except to be disclosed; nor is anything secret, except to come to light. 23 Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” 24 And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you. 25 For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.”
26 He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”
30 He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34 he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
The image of the lamp on a stand is a familiar one. Light brings out what is hidden by the darkness, exposing what is often hidden in plain sight. The ministry of Jesus is a new light in the world. It exposes oppressive systems, the mechanics that drive the -isms in our midst, and drawing us into the light of a new way of life. A new way of life that names and engages in the name, and through the power, of the new social reality called the kingdom of God.
The reminder that “there is nothing hidden, except to be disclosed” could be an illusion back to the parable of the sower. The seed of the kingdom is hidden while the act of sowing takes place, but through its growth the kingdom of God is revealed.
Jesus tells his disciples to “pay attention to what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you. For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” These words seem harsh and confusing, but could they be an honest statement from Jesus about the ways of the world?
This seems to be a statement about the market place. Those who have will get more - the people with resources, who continue to extract resources from the poor, will indeed get more. The poor who work the land, buried under heavy taxes, have their resources taken away. The unclean are held out of communal life by religious labels from those in power. It points us back to the political and agricultural realities of ancient Palestine. The poor know this all too well - the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The parables are meant to give hope to the people.
4:26-29 Parable of the Seed Growing By Itself
Ched Myers (Binding the Strongman) - “Against the cynicism of the economic ‘determinism’ of the system, Jesus pits the revolutionary patience and hope of the kingdom (Myers, 179).”
The seed of the kingdom is sown and God takes care of the growth. It is not up to the farmer to force the growth to take place. In a potentially hopeless situation (the struggle of discipleship against the powers of the world), the promise that the seed of the kingdom will grow, gives hope that change will indeed come.
“The vocation of the disciple/reader lies not in trying to provoke the harvest (for that happens ‘of itself’), but in tending to the ‘sowing.’ The point of the harvest image is to assure the listener that Yahweh’s judgement upon the powers and their system will indeed come, and so give the lie to the counter-assertion of the ‘realists’ that nothing with ever change (Myers, 179).”
4:30-32 Parable of the Mustard Seed
The parable of the mustard seed is another parable to inspire hope.
Systems of power maintain power through carefully orchestrated and well-ordered mechanisms. People pay taxes. There are religious rules and labels. There is some central group that makes decisions. People are given just enough freedom to maintain the allusion that there is freedom. It’s very neat and organized. Metaphorically its a well-maintained garden.
People under domination experience this well-maintained garden of power and have to navigate theirs lives based on the ruling authorities rules. This is what is happening on multiple levels at the time of Jesus. Rome is at the top of the power scheme. The Jerusalem leadership and local religious authorities also try to maintain their grip on what little power they have gained. It’s all ordered.
The kingdom of God breaks into this system and fractures the allusion. The mustard seed, though not the smallest, works its way into a garden and breaks through boundaries, growing widely and where it wants to. This is how the kingdom of God will work according to Jesus.
It’s small and tough to discern by the powers. But once planted it will break through boundaries, taking over the well-maintained garden of social, economic, religious, and cultural patterns. This gives hope to the people who have joined the movement of Jesus. God’s kingdom will prevail. In an unexpected way.
“The way of the sower will be subsequently by revealed as the way of nonviolence: servanthood becomes leadership, suffering becomes triumph, death becomes life. The lesson of the ‘unknowing farmer’ is that the means of the kingdom must never be compromised by attempting to manipulate the ends (Myers, 181).”
Questions for Modern Day Disciples
- How do we plant the seeds of God’s Kingdom?
- How do we maintain our patience?
- Where do we see the growth of God's kingdom?
Next we get ready to cross to the "otherside" with Jesus. The mission takes a surprising turn and is met with resistance.