The Parables of the Kingdom. a) (i) Outline the teaching about the Kingdom of God in the Parables of Mark’s Gospel. Jesus’ message from the beginning of Mark’s Gospel is: “The right time has come, and the Kingdom of God is near! Turn away from your sin and believe the Good News” The announcement of the Kingdom of God is the most crucial topic of the whole Gospel.
For entrance into the Kingdom of God, you must repent. Doing this means a person has to change their life completely. Unfortunately, the religious leaders of the time did not believe this. While the tax-collectors and sinners saw him give them another chance and his teaching also gave them hope for another better world. Four main parables talk about the Kingdom of God in Mark’s Gospel. They are:
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- The Parable of the Sower (4:1-9, 13-20)
- The Parable of the Lamp (4:21-25)
- The Parable of the Seed Growing Secretly (4:26-29
- The Parable of the Mustard Seed (4:30-32)
The Parable of the Sower. The parable of the sower is one of the most well-known of all parables. The seed in this parable is falling on all different types of soil: the footpath, rocky ground, among thistles, and fertile soil. At first sight, this can look as though it’s careless farming. The thistles seem to be the result of bad farming. This is, however, looking at the agricultural method used 2000 years ago from our modern standpoint. But, this is not the best way to understand the parable. The parable will only make sense looking at it against the agricultural system followed in Palestine at that time. In each type of soil, something different happened:
- a path- the birds came and ate it up
- rocky places, where there wasn’t much soil- it sprang up quickly because the soil was shallow, but when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they wiltered because they had no root.
- Among thorns- grew up and choked the plants, so they did not bear grain
- in good soil- it came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying 100 times.
These four different kinds of soil represent four different kinds of people, they are:
- the irresponsible hearer- Satan carries off the word giving the person no chance to respond
- the shallow hearer- the person who has no roots, lacking depth and persistence
- the worldly hearer- the person who is seduced by the pleasures of the world
- According to his faith, the responsive hearer is the person who, living a life of faith, obtains depths.
The meaning of the parable today. The parable of the sower is still relevant today. There have been many times in history when Christianity has faced difficult times. Sometimes it has been persecution or suppression. Other times it has been treated with apathy. Yet, throughout all these difficulties, the Kingdom of God has survived and flourished. The allegorical interpretation of the parable also continues to have meaning. Even if the comparison of people with different types of soil seems strange, the idea of examining someone’s faith is a good idea. Christians sometimes need to reflect on their faith as it is easy to be distracted from it.
The Parable of the Lamp. ‘Does anyone ever bring in a lamp and put it under a bowl or the bed? Doesn’t he put it on a lampstand? Whatever is hidden away will be brought out into the open, and whatever is covered up will be uncovered.’ (Mark 4:21-25) This parable shows us about hearing and learning. Hearing should lead to understanding. When Jesus told the parables, the people listening to them (the hearers) should understand it. Otherwise, there is no point in telling parables. This parable says that to hear without understanding is like putting a lamp under a bucket so that it goes out again. You must also respond to it, give your opinion, and if you don’t, you are losing what you hear.
The parable also criticizes Jewish teachers who have hidden the Kingdom of God instead of revealing it to the people. The meaning of the parable today. An example of someone who has followed what Jesus wanted us to know through that parable is Mother Teresa. She showed the world she was a Christian with no fear. She let her faith grow and tried to help everyone as much as she could. She was not ashamed of who she was, and he life shone with the light of Christ and then went on to the Kingdom of God.
The parable of the Seed Growing Secretly. This parable is taken from an everyday life example. The seed is sown, but its growth is a mystery. All you have to do is gather the harvest. This parable is written in allegory form; the Kingdom of God is like the seed. It grows, but the way it does is inexplicable. The meaning of the parable today. This parable is still meaningful today. Nobody knows how one’s faith grows inside a person, but it just does. The Kingdom of God grows in a person’s heart. You or anybody can buy it or demand it. Everybody receives it as a gift, but each person grows differently, in different ways and sizes. This gift allows you to change your life through faith. Faith makes you believe you can change your life for the better. And so the ‘seed’ grows. It grows by grace.
The Parable of the Mustard Seed. This parable is probably the simplest to understand from all the parables about the Kingdom of God. It shows that the mustard seed is the smallest seed of all, but it grows taller than all other plants when it is planted. In Palestine, unlike in Britain, the seed is a seed that produces a shrub about eight to ten feet tall with strong enough branches to support and give shelter today.
The Parable of the Mustard seed is about the growth of the kingdom of God. Like Jesus’ mission began small with a small group of followers (the disciples), the Kingdom of God starts small. Over time it grows steadily until it becomes a massive community. Finally, it becomes so vast that everyone on this Earth can take refuge in it.
The meaning of the parable today. This parable shows that something as small as a mustard seed can grow into something big. The seed, just after it’s planted, here represents the faith of every person. This parable is similar to that one of the seeds growing secretly, as here, also, the seed is growing, and nobody knows how. You plant it and do not understand how it grows, but it does. In this parable, though, what’s growing in somebody’s faith in God and Jesus.
You do not know how but your and other’s people faith grows, and you become a more truthful Christian. You can do many things to try and grow your faith to its full potential, i.e. by going to church and praying whenever you can, but how it grows inside you is a mystery no one can explain.
Explain, with examples from Mark’s Gospel, the differences between a parable and an allegory. A parable is a story from real life with one particular meaning or message. An allegory is a story where the message is coded, and everything in the story stands for something else. Though all the stories Jesus told are called parables, many of them were told in allegory form. Because it is challenging to understand allegories more than parables, Jesus always had to explain to the people he was telling the parable or allegory at the end, once he had finished, what it meant.
For example, the 4 ‘parables’ used above all have a symbolic meaning. Every object used in each parable, in its ways, represents something else, a hidden meaning. Most of the stories used in Mark’s Gospel are parables. Still, as we are talking about the Kingdom of God, relating to faith, these are the most obvious to be allegories, as they could represent Christ, God, or the faith growing inside you, which is represented as a seed. One of the most known allegories in Mark’s Gospel is ‘The Parable of the Tenants’. All the men who are involved in the story each represent something else. Though all stories in the gospel are called parables, you could change many of them into allegories as everything can have a different meaning if you want it to.
Explain the use of parables in Mark’s Gospel. Between the parable of the sower and its symbolic meaning, Mark has a few verses in which Jesus explains why he teaches in parables. First, Jesus says to his followers: ‘You have been given the secret of the Kingdom of God.’ Second, he says that other people will only hear the parable story and not understand the teaching. Later, in verse 34, Mark says: ‘He would not speak to them without using parables, but when he was alone with his disciples, he would explain everything to them.’
It may look as though Mark is saying that only the disciples knew the meaning of the parables, which Jesus taught them personally. But, maybe Jesus did not want to announce teaching, which might be understood as ‘political.’ This would probably have put an end to his teaching because the Romans would have arrested him. But, on the other hand, the Christians in Rome had to leave messages for each other in signs and symbols in the fear they would be discovered, so the idea of secret teaching probably would not have appeared strange to them.
They understand the parables now. Christians today have problems appreciating and understanding the parables. They are not always familiar with some of the comparisons Jesus makes. For example, the language describing life in Palestine in the first century: the sower, the lamp, the measure, the wineskin, the mustard seed, the doorkeeper, the fig tree. But the teachings in the Gospel, the parables in the Gospel, areas suitable for Christians now as they were in his day. They all have their meaning that Jesus tried to show us and should be understood the same way they were 2000 years ago, now.
- Faith grows gradually and becomes strong enough to support others—for example, the works and teachings of Mother Teresa.
- The teaching of Christ has something new to say to every generation.
- God’s message is received by various people, some of whom do great work for God’s Kingdom on Earth.
- God’s people have a responsibility for which they will have to give an account at the time of judgement.
‘This earth will never be God’s Kingdom.’ Do you agree? Give reasons for your opinion showing you have considered another point of view. Your answer should refer to Mark’s Gospel. ‘The Kingdom of God’ – the Jews used this phrase to refer to the power and authority of God. They never used it to mean an earthly kingdom in the sense of an area of land ruled by God. It was more a question of belonging to God’s Kingdom by responding to him in faith and accepting his ‘rule’ over one’s life.
But, some may think: ‘Wouldn’t it be great if God’s Kingdom was here, on Earth as well? Why not instead of waiting a whole lifetime to get to somewhere amazing, God’s Kingdom/Heaven, which you are not even sure you will get to if you could make such a wonderful place on Earth?’ And, some people believe that. They think this earth is already God’s Kingdom. These, though, are probably people who lead glamorous lives. The world agrees with them; they have people to love and are loved back. They don’t have economic, social or political problems and lead life without a single worry.
But, realistically, these people don’t exist. Everybody has problems, but people still believe this earth is or could be God’s Kingdom. These people may turn to Christianity for help when in trouble and believe this world is progressing and make them feel better. Maybe, they believe that part of this Earth is populated by people who contribute to helping and making the earth a better place to live, but some others still have a lot to learn. They are probably very optimistic and look on the bright side of life and only see the good side of people and people who are generous and help each other. All of this may also depend on the kind of lifestyle you lead and the people who surround you.
Others, on the other side, may be very misfortunate and lead challenging and stressful lives. They might believe this earth could never be God’s Kingdom if people like them lived in such conditions. They are very pessimistic people and only see the worst side of people. They also think about all the bad, horrendous things happening in the world: people being murdered, cancer taking lives, drugs, violence, wars, etc. All the number of people who are dying, leaving children and loved ones behind, how the crime rate is increasing, people in third-world countries are starving to death, and how many people are getting sexually and violently harassed every day.
The Tsunami is an example of something terrible that has happened in today’s world. Thousands of innocent people died, and these people will question themselves: ‘If this was God’s Kingdom, would He be letting this happen? But, on the other side, so much good has come out of people in Britain. Millions of people on this earth, everywhere, were extremely generous and gave all they could to help those in need. Mark already starts the Gospel by saying that Jesus said: “The right time has come, and the Kingdom of God is near! Turn away from your sin and believe the Good News.”
This could be understood in two different ways. Either Jesus is bringing the Kingdom of God to us, which means earth IS the Kingdom of God if you repent your sins and follow the commandments, or maybe it could be saying that life is short. You will shortly die, so make the most of it and be good, generous and help all you can use so that when you die, you can enter into eternal life in heaven. So, we’ll never know what Mark meant to say to us. Some people choose to believe something while others believe the complete contrary, but you cannot say which one is right on who is wrong.
I think this Earth, in some ways, could be seen as God’s Kingdom. There are some fantastic people out there helping the most they can to anyone in the world. You have to appreciate these people and be glad they do exist. Charities are an example that God is here with us. They raise money for those people who need it instead of keeping it for themselves, and everyone who contributes towards it is also an example. Mother Teresa was an example of someone who tried to make this earth the best possible by helping everybody she could.
On the other hand, some terrible people murder and steal from others. These people are not the majority, but it is still true that they do exist. Things like third world hunger; disasters happening everywhere in the world make me wonder if this is God’s Kingdom. Sometimes I wish it isn’t so that what comes after will be better than this and give me some hope. Other times, I wish I never left this earth and all the beautiful people who populate it. But they are just opinions. Everything in this world must be balanced, and so all the good things happening are balanced by all the wrong things, in a way. As nobody is perfect, this earth also isn’t.