In Mark 3:31-4:9 we have two scenes connected by the author. In the first, Jesus is teaching and his mother and brothers are standing outside seeking Him. In the second, He is by a lake and tells a parable about farming. The connection is subtle but important.
Just prior to this in the written text, Mark recounted Jesus' healing and exorcism ministry, with an emphasis on the battle with demons (Jesus silences them for identifying Him). Then Jesus calls the Twelve (Symbolic of New Israel//12 Tribes) and empowers them to declare that God's Kingdom is coming and to exorcise demons (later in the Gospel healing is added). It also says that they are appointed "to be with Him." Following this, as Jesus tries to escape the frenzied crowds, there are so many they cannot even eat! 3:21 briefly states that His family come to get Him because they think He is nuts. Then a debate with the religious experts about exorcism (they say Jesus is possessed and that is where His power comes from) leads to Jesus declaring that it is unforgivable to call the work of God (i.e. Jesus' Ministry) the work of Satan. In simplest terms, to do so is to reject God and to walk away from God and embrace Satan is to lose all hope.
So the appearance of His mother and brothers may be a continuation of the previous statement about "His family" (does Mary think Him mad?) or perhaps it is in addition to the wider family. Mark is not interested in the internal workings of the family, so arguably nor should we. (Mark does tend to focus on the unbelief of everyone). He seems, rather, to be making a point.
In the Ancient Middle East, clan and family are fundamental to identity. People lived in the same villages for generations and the survival of each person depended on that tight knit family group. In the West, we are more individualistic. Weddings and funerals are often the only time we gather together. In Jesus day, what He is doing was unthinkable. He redefines family: not biological but spiritual, not based on genetic/marriage bonds but on our relationship with Jesus. He, the King, is making everything new.
The parable which follows, throwing seed on different soil, is an illustration of the 'new thing' Jesus is initiating. Certainly the agricultural practices of His time are manifest in the story, but the deeper meaning is found in the Jewish Bible (Isaiah 40:8; 55:10-11). What Jesus is sowing is a deeper revelation, He is explaining what the Torah and prophets really mean. The planted seed, God's Word, is in Israel. That is (from another angle) His people "planted" in the promised land. The response to that word has always been troubling (see the reflections on Deuteronomy this past week). God speaks and His people do not shema (hear, listen, obey). The reasons are myriad and the types of ground provide examples (which are then allegorized). In a previous reflection on this Gospel I said that it can be read corporately ("the church"//"the nation") and individually ("the soul//heart//inner person"). I conclude with some questions to ponder.
What part of God's Word is snatched up by the "birds" today--in the world, in the church, but also within "me"? Here is an issue of deafness or blindness. Here is where our cultural assumptions (what is "rich/poor", what is "history & truth", what is "salvation" what is "faith") get in the way of hearing Jesus. We assume meanings to words and do not ever hear what Jesus is saying, or we look in the wrong direction to make arguments with which Jesus is not interested!
Where are we (am I) enthusiastic about some aspect of God's word, only to have it quickly shrivel up in the heat of the day? I see this regularly, as church members are faithful to Jesus and His church, and then sort of pursue other things and drift away. Sprinting is hard work, but it is over after a short time. Life is a marathon. Discipleship cannot happen in a day, a week or a month. We are impatient for results (and in an Attention Deficit culture, prone to distractions chasing the next new thing). immediate is an "American value" and being "fast, quick" is a "virtue"--but is it? As Jesus walked from place to place spending hours teaching, calling disciples to be slowly shaped and formed in God's idea of values and virtues I think He knew it took a life time (even if in frustration He did complain, "how long must I be with you?").
What is choking the Gospel in the world, church and ourselves? Ever sit down and make a list of the ways your pursuit of "wealth" or your worries and concerns (lack of trust) are keeping the word from taking root in you? Heck no! Me neither!!!! Rethinking how we live and what we are focused on...that could create some major upheaval and family conflict! (perhaps why the context for Mark is family?)
It is easy to condemn the world , and even to criticize the church. After all, our vision is 20/20 when looking at others. But self reflection is hard. The mirror does not reveal everything to us. We cannot get a good angle on much of what we do. This Gospel reminds us to re-order our lives around Jesus (He is first, others fall in line behind Him). This is a radical reshaping and reorienting. Next He tells us that IF we do, if we decide to be open, be obedient, be faithful and to live in trust, that the production (30, 60, 100 fold) will be incredible.
It seems our world could use some production from the virtues and values of God and His reign. We can wait around for the world and church to get it, and point out the failings there. Or we can begin the hard work of dying and being born again. Which would Jesus ask of you?