Pithy Parables – Thursday, 3rd Week in ordinary time – Mark 4:21-25

In Mark 4:21-25 we have two short parables of Jesus, one which is a matter of plain common sense and the other a bit obscure in its meaning. When the word parable is used, we normally think of long stories spanning several verses, like the parable of the sower (Mark 4:1-9) or the famous parable of the prodigal son (Luke15). But as we know, a parable is literally “something thrown beside something else”; it’s a comparison of something earthly with something spiritual. So, they can be long narratives or short, pithy comparisons of a verse or two. Today’s text illustrates how Jesus could use the shortest of little comparisons to illustrate deep spiritual truths. Both the parables are two verses long, separated by a warning in the middle.

In the Old Testament, a lamp is a metaphor for three things: God, Messiah, and the Torah. The original Greek text does not read as ‘a lamp’ but THE LAMP. In short, Jesus is revealing his identity and mission in this text, indicating that the lamp refers to himself as the Messiah. Putting all this together, Jesus is saying, “Does THE lamp come to be put under a measuring bowl or under a bed? Is it not to be set on a lamp stand?”

Jesus wants his followers to let his light, his teaching shine out. Jesus the light, is not a searchlight to expose, shame or embarrass others. Some have mistakenly interpreted verse22 as referring to the sins of humans and that on judgment day; everything we have ever done will come to light. While this may be true it is not the correct interpretation within this context. So, if sins being exposed is not what Jesus was talking about here, what was he talking about? Verse 22 begins with the word ‘for’ indicating that verse 22 is a continuation or an elaboration of verse 21 concerning the eventual revelation of Christ’s divinity.

We have seen in Mark’s Gospel, as in the case of the leper in chapter one, that Jesus concealed his identity as God for a time. Rather than immediately boldly declare he was God and get himself killed before he had hardly begun his ministry, he first established his uniqueness through his healings, his immediate and absolute command of demons and his amazing teachings. So, when Jesus says, “For there is nothing hidden except to be disclosed; nor is anything secret, except to come to light,” he is speaking of himself. That which was hidden about him, even from his most ardent disciples up to this point—that is, his divinity and his mission to go to the cross and pay the penalty for sin—would eventually be revealed so that it should all come to light.

When Jesus, the light of truth shines, all is understood and forgiven. One has no need to hide nor does one need to choose to stay in the dark, be indifferent or hostile. The Gospel reading also tells us that Good News is to be shared; Jesus must be spoken about. Pope Francis, speaking to people who were concerned about the shortage of priests spoke about people who lived authentically Christian lives as being preachers of the Good News in today’s world.

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