This is a difficult passage, but also a great example of how Mark is both similar but also very different to Matthew and Luke. When we read this passage, it sounds familiar, but trying to get to the bottom of it is difficult. As we read through this one passage, it’s easy to say, “oh, this is the same scene we see in Matthew where…”. And while that’s true, if we really look at it, what we’ll find is that what is condensed into one scene in Mark is actually multiple different scenes in Matthew and Luke.
The passage opens with “Is a lamp brought in to be put under the bushel basket, or under the bed, and not on the lamp stand?” Yes! We know this story. This is the whole “this little light of mine thing” and all that nice stuff that Jesus says in Matthew about “you are the light of the world.” And it does parallel with that, but let’s remember that here in Mark all he says about that is this one verse. We do not get “light of the world”, we do not get a “city on a hill”, and we do not get “let your light shine”. Those can absolutely be read into this, but Mark doesn’t say that. What does Mark say?
Verse 22 says, “for there is nothing hidden, except to be disclosed; nor is anything secret, except to come to light”. This is similar to “let your light shine”, but not the same. “Let your light shine” indicates a choice that we can either let it shine or not. And while verse 21 seems to indicate a choice, it doesn’t say it expressly, and in then we get verse 22 which seems to indicate that whatever’s inside of me, will come out. This is very different than, “you are the light of the world, let your light shine”. This seems to be, “here’s the deal, no matter what’s going on inside, for better or for worse, it will at some point be exposed”. This passage seems to be trending toward a much harder message, but one we know to be true: That is, “you can’t mask what’s inside you. So if the good things of God are within you, it’s going to come out; and if the destructive work of evil is within, it’s going to come out.”
But then Jesus takes another shift: He moves into “let anyone with ears to hear listen”, which is parable talk. Now we have moved into a passage that still parallels with Matthew, but a totally different part of Matthew. We’re no longer in “you are the light of the world- let your light shine” stuff which is from the Sermon on the Mount. Now we’re into the parables part of Matthew. But then what Jesus says in Mark takes us to yet another parallel with Matthew, but still another different part. Now we move away from the parables part of Matthew and back to Matthew 7 when Jesus is talking about judgement and “the measure you give [of judgement] will be the measure you get.”
Confused yet? Don’t sweat it. It’s confusing because the Gospels don’t always match up so nicely, so we get some similar stories and teachings, but because of their particular context their meaning may change. The over arching point for Mark here is (I think) “Pay attention to what you hear”. He does not say, “pay attention to what I’m saying”. What do you hear? What is stirring in you? What do you notice. Don’t micromanage it, don’t control it, don’t finesse it. What do you hear? Pay attention to that, because whatever it is you’re hearing, is likely where God is working in you. And you can try to cover it up and make it something else, but in the end, if it’s what God is doing, it will come out. So, beloved, let us all pay attention to what we hear.