“Such is the sanctuary of God – just as a man who plants seed into the soil – whether he goes to sleep at night or rises in the day – the seed sprouts and grows yet he doesn’t know how. Because the earth brings forth crops from herself – first the stalk, then the husk and after that the full ear of corn. But when the crop is ready, he immediately dispatches the sickle, because the harvest has arrived.” (Mark 4:26-29)Unlike most of the other parables in the Book of Mark, this analogy or parable is not repeated in the Books of Luke and Matthew. What does this parable mean?
The Sanctuary of God
When Jesus refers to the "Sanctuary of God" (often translated to "Kingdom of God" in most sectarian versions), he is not referring to a place - as "Kingdom of God" would indicate. The Greek phrase βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ contains three words:
βασιλεία (basileia) - means according to the lexicon, "royal power, kingship, dominion, rule - not to be confused with an actual kingdom but rather the right or authority to rule over a kingdom."
τοῦ means "of" or "from"
θεός (Theos) is the Name of God.
The key element of the phrase is the word βασιλεία (basileia). Jesus is speaking not of a place, but of a particular consciousness. The consciousness of accepting the Supreme Being as our Lord and Master.
Thus a more appropriate translation would be along the lines of what the lexicon suggests - accepting God's "royal power, kingship, dominion, rule." What is the consciousness involved in accepting God's power or dominion?
Refuge. A person who accepts the dominion or rule of a king is taking refuge or sanctuary in that king. This phraseology comes from ancient times when the people of a population felt protected by a strong king.
Jesus is speaking of taking shelter of God - gaining the sanctuary of God. If someone accepts the dominion or rule of a person over them, they are in essence accepting themselves as a subject of that person - a servant of that person. For such a servant, shelter is achieved by accepting their master's sanctuary.
This is, in fact, our position. We are God's subjects. We are God's servants - if we choose to accept our role. To achieve protection, we must take sanctuary in God.
The problem is that we have forgotten that reality. We are trying to run away from that reality. We are pretending to be someone we are not.
This is why practically everyone in the physical world wants to be the champion. We want to win the gold medal. We want to be the winner. We want to be the hero. We want to be the governor. Or the president. For those of us who cannot reach these temporary positions, we will accept being a supervisor at work, or a parent at home. One way or another, we want to be on top. We want others to respect us and we want to be acclaimed by others.
What is this? It is the desire to be worshiped. We want to be lord. We want others to applaud us - and bow down to us if they will.
This is symbolized by the Olympic gold medal winners standing on the podium being given a wreath and a medal being applauded by everyone. This is seen as the ultimate achievement in life - along with being the president or movie star or king or queen or some other form of royalty. The position of being the best - being better than everyone else in some way.
In other words, we don't want to accept that God has dominion over us: That God is the champion, the hero, the ruler, the best. We want that position.
And this is why we are here in the physical world, away from Him. This is why we have forgotten our relationship with the Supreme Being - because we became jealous of Him and His power.
We no longer wanted to be His servant. We wanted what He has - power, kingship, dominion, rule.
So the Supreme Being - being the loving, kind and generous person He is - set us up so we can forget our relationship with Him and chase these things. He gave us a virtual place - this physical world - so that we can ignore Him and chase our dreams. To facilitate this He also gave us these temporary physical bodies - which allow us to forget Him and pretend we are someone else for awhile.
This is the loving nature of God. It is like a loving father who builds a treehouse in the backyard so the son can be away from his parents and 'be in charge' in his own little space.
But just as the boy will need to come back into the house at some point to eat dinner and resume his relationship with his parents, each of us will need to return to our relationship with the Supreme Being - if we want to become happy.
But if we continue to want to continue our emptiness caused by being away from God, He will certainly arrange it so that we stay within this physical world in one form or another. He never forces us to return to Him. But like a boy who runs away from home, if we choose that course we will face hardship as we try to go it alone.
But by accepting His sanctuary and returning home to our loving servant relationship with God, we can resume our natural position and become fulfilled.
So the phrase attributed to Jesus' statement and this parable - Sanctuary of God (βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ) - relates to accepting the Supreme Being as our refuge. It means giving up the dream that we will be happy by becoming a false champion and having everyone applaud us for a few minutes. It means giving up the illusion that we will be happy if we are served and we get some temporary respect from others.
As we can see by observing those who have positions of power, these things will not satisfy us anyway.
This is because we are givers by nature. We are servants. This is why even the most wealthy, famous people only find a glimpse of happiness by donating their money or their time to helping others. This is why we feel better when we give than when we receive.
When we resume our natural position as a loving servant of the Supreme Being we are engaging our true identity. We are leaving behind the temporary nature of the physical body's identity and our need to have this body and its name be acclaimed and applauded.
Planting the seed
The reason why the worship of God is like a man who plants a seed that grows into a plant that matures to harvest in Jesus' parable is because when a person worships the Supreme Being, they are planting the seeds of renewing their innate relationship with the Supreme Being.
The activities of worshiping God are like seeds because they sprout into love for God.
The harvest - love for God - takes place without our realizing how it takes place. Just as the farmer can go to sleep and the seeds will continue to grow, we can go about our lives knowing our worship of God and our accepting His dominion will sprout into our love for the Supreme Being. This is because as we sincerely worship God He begins to reveal Himself to us.
As long as the seeds are planted and watered.
Certainly, any seed will require water and good soil in order to sprout into a plant. This is, in fact, the meaning of Jesus' parable of the Farmer and the Seed, where some of the seeds didn't have soil or water and thus did not sprout.
In the same way, it is not as if we can worship the Supreme Being once and then go back to trying to be the champion and expect these activities to grow into love for the Supreme Being. We must engage in the process of worship. We must engage in the process of rebuilding our relationship with God - our Best Friend and Soul Mate.
This process is universal among relationships. Consider a man who runs off on his wife. Will the wife take him back immediately as soon as he apologizes? Certainly not. She wants him to be serious this time. She doesn't want the man to just run off again. This means there will be some work involved in rebuilding their relationship.
It is no different with the Supreme Being after we ran away from our relationship with Him. Certainly, He wants us to return to our relationship with Him. But He doesn't want a whimsical relationship - or a convenient relationship based on Him giving us what we want. He wants us to be serious about our relationship with Him.
This is illustrated by the process of the seed developing into a plant in Jesus' parable. The seed - our worship of God - can sprout and grow into love for God as we focus on this objective. This means being determined and engaging in the activities that further our return to our relationship with Him.
There are several activities ("seeds") to accomplish this as evidenced in the scriptures:
- Prayer - this is reaching out to the Supreme Being in a humble and respectful manner. Jesus' suggested prayer was:
“Our spiritual LORD, Holy is Your Name. Show us Your sanctuary. May Your will be done on earth as it is in the spiritual realm. Give us today the food that sustains life, Please forgive our offenses, as we forgive those who offend us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from wickedness."(Matt. 6:9-13)This prayer illustrates accepting our position as loving servant - doing God's will - "Your will be done."
- Jesus' prayer also refers to another process of renewing our relationship with Him - one largely forgotten among sectarian institutions today: Praising God's Holy Names. Here is the scriptural evidence of this.
- Making offerings to God is another forgotten practice that is specifically taught throughout the scriptures - supported also by Jesus, who instructed:
"Therefore, if you are making your offering before the Altar of God, and you are reminded that your brother has something against you, leave your offering before the Altar of God and go – first become reconciled with your brother and then return and present your offering." (Matt. 5:23-24)This clearly shows that Jesus supported and promoted the ancient practice of making offerings to the Supreme Being. The word "offering" is clearly identified by the Greek word δῶρον (dōron).
This ancient practice - of making offerings to God - is a natural part of building any relationship. Consider what a man does when he wants to build his relationship with a woman - he brings her flowers.
In the same way, we can offer the Supreme Being a flower or a glass of water, or some food. This was in fact what Jesus was really doing when he "blessed" food before distributing it. He was offering the food to the Supreme Being.
In the same way, since the Supreme Being can be anywhere personally, we can also make offerings from anywhere - humbly with devotion. We don't have to find a special temple or altar, because the Supreme Being is present in the form of the Holy Spirit.
Utilizing these basic practices, we can plant our seeds of love for God, and nurture them with humility and devotion. The devotional practices promoted by Jesus as outlined above will blossom into renewing our relationship with the Supreme Being without us having to know how it happens. It will just happen, just as planted seeds can produce a harvest even when the farmer sleeps in Jesus' parable: Because the harvest of love for the Supreme Being is the goal of Jesus' teachings:
“The most important of all the instructions is, ‘Hear O Israel – the LORD our God is our only Lord – and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’ – this is the most important instruction." (Mark 12:29-30)