Parables at Work (Mark 4:26-29 and 13:32-37)
Mark contains only two parables that are not also found in the other Gospels. Both of them concern work, and both are very short.
The first of these parables, in Mark 4:26-29, compares the kingdom of God to growing grain from seed. It has similarities to the more familiar parable of the mustard seed, which follows immediately afterwards, and to the parable of the sower (Mark 4:1-8). Although the parable is set in the workplace of agriculture, the role of the farmer is deliberately minimized. “He does not know how” the grain grows (Mark 4:27). Instead, the emphasis is on how the kingdom’s growth is brought about by the inexplicable power of God. Nonetheless, the farmer must “rise night and day” to cultivate the crop (Mark 4:26) and go in with his sickle (Mark 4:28) to reap the harvest. God’s miracle is given among those who do their assigned work.
The second uniquely Marcan parable, in Mark 13:32-37, illustrates the need for Jesus’ disciples to watch for the second coming of Jesus. Intriguingly, Jesus says, “It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch” (Mark 13:34). While he is away, each servant is charged to keep doing his work. The kingdom is not like a master who goes to a far country and promises to eventually call his servants to join him there. No, the master will be coming back, and he gives his servants the work of growing and maintaining his household for his eventual return.
Both parables take it as a given that Jesus’ disciples are diligent workers, whatever their occupation. We will not discuss the other parables here, but refer instead to the extensive explorations in Matthew and Work and Luke and Work at www.theologyofwork.org.