Robert Capon – Parables of the Light and the Growing Seed

This week we are discussing Chapter 7 on the Parable of the Lamp and the Parable of the Growing Seeds and Chapter 9 on the Parable of the Mustard Seeds in Rev. Robert F. Capon’s book  Kingdom, Grace, and Judgment – Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus. (We will be discussing Chapter 8 on the Parable of the Weeds next week.) These are the parables that are told directly after the parable of the Sower and Seeds as found in Mark 4. Fr. Kimel’s teaching on these parables (from which I have borrowed liberally) is here. This email is available online and on Facebook.

The Context:

In the Gospel of Mark, the Parable of the Sower is immediately followed by three short parables – the lamp, the growing seed, and the mustard seed. Mark 4:21-32. The question that arises is how do these parables help illuminate the parable of the Sower. Remember, in reading these parables we are talking about the unassuming power of seeds (small, hidden, and sacrificial) as illustrative of the left-handed power of God disclosed to us in the person of Jesus.

The Lamp:

Immediately after his explanation of the Sower, Jesus goes into the Parable of the Lamp:

And he said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a bushel, or under a bed, and not on a stand? For there is nothing hid, except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret, except to come to light. If any man has ears to hear, let him hear.” Mark 4:21-23.

As Capon explains the parable: The Lamp is the Good News of the sowing of the Word who is the all-sufficient cause of the kingdom; but unless that Lamp is set squarely on the lampstand of a relentlessly paradoxical interpretation of the kingdom, its light simply will not be seen. All the easier, more plausible interpreta­tions—those that try to expound the kingdom as parochial, or nonmysteri­ous, or merely virtual—are just so many bushel baskets or beds that can only hide the Lamp’s light. And if I add to that my habitual ringing in of John when­ever possible, an even fuller meaning of the passage becomes clear: Jesus himself is the Lamp. The incarnate Word—the Light that, coming into the world, lightens every human being—cannot be recognized as the Light he is except on the lampstand of a properly paradoxical, lefthanded interpre­ta­tion of his person and work. Stand him on anything else, and you see not just one more dim bulb like the rest of us; you see no saving Light at all. p.76

As we looked at last week, Capon interprets Jesus as the Word sown from the beginning. In him, the Kingdom is mysteriously, hiddenly but actually present and working in the world, like a seed. The question, however, is that if Jesus is the Lamp, why is he not obviously and brilliantly visible as God incarnate to everyone? If Jesus is the Light, why did the world not know him and why did his people not receive him? John 1:10-11. Because, as Capon says, his light is made manifest in his weakness.

If we are looking for a political Messiah who will set all things right by force of arms or if we looking for our Messiah who will increase our power, then we have placed a bushel over the Light. Instead of promising to vanquish our enemies, he tells us to pray for them; instead of telling us to stock up our arsenal in preparation for the great revolution, he tells us to turn the other cheek; instead of telling us to obey the rules, he tells us to love our neighbor; and instead of establishing the theocratic empire we are looking for, he tells us that his Kingdom is not of this world. In looking at Jesus from a right-handed power point of view, we have placed his light under a bushel, or as Paul would later say, we have placed a veil over that light. 2 Cor. 3:13.

The very purpose of Jesus’ parabolic teaching is to introduce his audience, his disciples, and us to his paradoxical identity and power structure and to challenge us to think beyond the way the world works and beyond how we believe that God should work. The challenge to us is to avoid hiding this paradoxical understanding of power and identity from the world, to avoid using our religion as a power-play, and to elevate the life and person of Jesus Christ as the Light of the World.  

The Growing Seed:

In Mark 4, Jesus immediately follows up the Parable of the Lamp with the Parable of the Growing Seed. This parable is unique to Mark and is a distillation of the Sower (and other agricultural parables) to its most essential nature.

And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed upon the ground, and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he knows not how.  The earth produces of itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” (Mk 4:26-29).

Within this parable, Jesus drives home the simplicity and sovereignty of the Kingdom. There is not a question as to whether someone else is rocky ground or how do we become good soil. There are no impediments like we saw in the Sower or will see in the Parable of the Weeds in the second half of this week’s lesson. Rather, the farmer sows his seed and then goes about his ordinary life. The seed and its power are initially hidden from view, but eventually, it breaks through the soil, and con­tin­ues to grow until it reaches fruition. The miracle of life is beyond the farmer’s care and competence. The parable also has within it the idea of proper timing that we discussed last week. The sense of time in the Kingdom is one of Kairos not Chronos. The earth simply bears its fruit at the right time.

As Capon writes about the parable: And that . . . is what Jesus is proclaiming in the parable of the Growing Seed. The kingdom itself, he insists, is the very thing that is sown. And in the rest of the parable, he drives home, with a clarity matched almost nowhere else, the absolute sovereignty of that kingdom over the earth it wills to make its home. There are no references at all here to the dangers that hos­til­ity might pose for it; nor are there even any references to the detrimental or beneficial effects of the various responses that human beings might make to it. Instead, Jesus ignores these matters entirely. As Jesus depicts it, once the man in the para­ble has sown the seed, he does nothing more than mind his own and not the seed’s business.

But then comes one of the most startling statements in all of Scripture: ‘Automatē hē gē karpophorei,’ Jesus says; the earth (and all of it, mind you: good, bad, or indifferent) bears fruit of itself, automatically. Just put the kingdom into the world, he says in effect; put it into any kind of world—not only into a world of hotshot responders or spiritual pros, but into a world of sinners, deadbeats, and assorted other poor excuses for humanity (which, interestingly enough, is the only world available anyway)—and it will come up a perfect kingdom all by itself: “first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.” It takes its time about it, to be sure; but the time it takes is entirely its own, not anyone else’s. There is not a breath about crop failure, any more than there is about the depredations of the devil or the knuckle­head­ed­ness of humanity. There is only the proclamation of a catholic sowing that, mysteriously but effectively, results in a catholic growth toward a catholic harvest. pp. 79-80.

The promise in the Parable of the Growing Seed is that the Kingdom will come because the Kingdom is already sown. And the Kingdom will come at the right time to bear fruit. Our effort is of little consequence to the coming of the Kingdom. Our only requirement is to trust in that which is sown and in its power. We are to simply proclaim the Kingdom and to not hide it under a bushel basket.

Dinner is at 6:30. The menu is quesadillas. Discussion about 7:15. Hope to see you here!

He who says he is in the light and hates his brother is in the darkness still. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and in it there is no cause for stumbling.

1 John 2:9-10

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