What does it say?
Mark 4 is one of three teaching-intensive sessions in this gospel. Three parables form the heart of this chapter: the sower (4:1-9), the seed that grows by itself (4:26-29) and the mustard seed (4:30-34). All three give some aspect of the nature of the kingdom of God. Jesus gives an explanation of the parable of the sower (4:10-25). The closing verses (4:35-41) set the stage for what follows as Jesus and his disciples cross the Galilean Sea and Jesus delivers them from a fiercely dangerous windstorm.
Arriving on the SE shore of Galilee, Jesus and his disciples are in the Gentile territory of the Gadarenes. The region is called Decapolis (5:20), Greek for 10 Gentile cities of that region. Jesus casts demons out of a man that had been a terror for years. Returning to Galilee, a synagogue leader named Jairus approaches Jesus interceding for his critically ill daughter. A desperate woman suffering severe hemorrhaging for 12 years interrupts Jesus. Healing her, word arrives that Jairus’ daughter has died. Jesus’ continues to the home and revives her.
What does it mean?
Parables illustrate truth by comparisons with what is known and understood in a cultural setting, a very common form of teaching in Jesus’ day. The listener “enters the story” and discovers the truth within, rather than having the teacher spell everything out completely. In the case of the different soils, Jesus gives some keys to understanding. Other times parables stand alone.
As we read the four gospels chronologically, be aware that Jesus has a core curriculum of truth repeated in different places, occasions and to different audiences with appropriate variations. Each gospel writer has a different emphasis that also accounts for differences and not being tied to strict chronology. For example, Mark gives greater detail about the demonized man in Gadera than Mark or Luke. Matthew mentions that there were two demonized men, but Mark and Luke chose to mention only the prominent one. Ironically, even demons in a non-Jewish area recognize who Jesus is.
How will I respond?
Of the three parables in Mark 4, what one speaks more to my heart today? How does that parable characterize the kingdom of God and how can that characteristic be reflected today in my life? Jesus sent the Gaderene home to share his faith. With whom can I share my faith today?