Feeding Again: Mark 8:1-21

Day 19
March 7, 2018
“Feeding Again”
Mark 8:1-21

Here’s a replay of the feeding of the 5000. They’ve been with him longer than the last crowd – three days – and won’t make it home without help. This time it’s 7 loaves and a few small fish, and it is 4,000 people, and he gets 7 baskets full back in ‘left-overs’! 

A few of us still wonder how many occasions, over how long a period, are represented by these stories in the first half of Mark.  According to Mark’s verb tenses, sometimes a sort of present tense driving forward, and sometimes a summative retrospective tense rendered as ‘he would say’ or ‘he used to’.  

Another few of us try to imagine why the community in which this gospel took shape, a generation later and hundreds of miles away, chose to tell these pairs of stories, whether of boats in storms of or crowds being fed – let alone the repeated exorcisms and healings.  We’ve heard sermons and ‘explanations’ for years, in metaphoric or naturalistic, psychological or political frameworks.

In the end, the main question I keep asking you this year is ‘how do you read this gospel, and how does it relate to how you ‘read’ people and situations around you now’?  With whom do you identify in the stories, and whom do you recognize as similar to others around you?  If our world collided with ‘God’s imperial reign’, what would occur?  

Jesus abandons another crowd, and heads across the Galilee again, to Dalmanutha, on the northwest coast of the sea.  He encounters Pharisee tests again: give us a sign, a proof!   He denies their request:  ‘why does this generation ask for a sign – no sign will be given’.  Now stop. If ever a generation got a sign, it was that one. They get Jesus, all these exorcisms and healings.

Mark’s community, and everybody since who reads this, knows that we also get a crucifixion and resurrection. What’s this about ‘they won’t get a sign’? Check your ‘reader response’: how’s it make you feel to hear Pharisees demand a sign, and Jesus refuse them?

He’s crossing the Sea of Galilee again ‘to the other side’, and the boatload of disciples is down to one loaf of bread. Did they forget, the dummies that they are, or were they simply complying with Jesus’ instruction to ‘take nothing with you’?  Regardless of the facts on a day in Jesus’ life, the story is selected in Mark to set up a line: ‘beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod’.

Come on, you can admit it!  You don’t get it either.  It’s not just the disciples in the boat that don’t get it.  We’re in the same boat with them.  Sure, other gospels will quote Jesus about us being ‘salt and yeast and light’, but if all we had was Mark, it looks like it’s Jesus’ opponents, the Pharisees and Herod that have yeast – and it’s bad!  What’s the bread that they, and we, lack?  Sure, John’s gospel can give you a way out, as John’s Jesus intones ‘I am the bread of life’.

Mark’s Jesus, in the movie between my ears, is not as pompous as John’s Jesus.  This one is rude to the disciples, or at least disappointed that they – and by extension, we – are so slow to understand what he keeps demonstrating as worlds collide.  What, are you stupid? Did you forget the feeding of the 5000, and the feeding of the 4000? Do we get it? Do we forget? Do we trust?   

‘Do you not yet understand’? 

In those days
when there was again a great crowd
without anything to eat,
he called his disciples
and said to them, 

‘I have compassion for the crowd,
because they have been with me now
for three days
and have nothing to eat.

If I send them away hungry
to their homes, 
they will faint on the way
—and some of them have come
 from a great distance.’

His disciples replied, 
‘How can one feed these people
with bread
here in the desert?’ 

 He asked them, 
‘How many loaves do you have?’ 

 They said, 

 Then he ordered the crowd
to sit down on the ground; 
and he took the seven loaves, 
and after giving thanks
he broke them
and gave them to his disciples to distribute; 
and they distributed them to the crowd. 

 They had also a few small fish; 
and after blessing them, 
he ordered that these too
should be distributed. 

 They ate and were filled; 
and they took up the broken pieces left over, 
seven baskets full. 

 Now there were about four thousand people, 
and he sent them away. 

 And immediately
he got into the boat with his disciples, 
and went to the district of Dalmanutha.

The Pharisees came
and began to argue with him, 
asking him for a sign from heaven, 
to test him. 

 And he sighed deeply in his spirit
and said,

‘Why does this generation ask for a sign?
Truly I tell you, 
no sign will be given to this generation.’

And he left them, 
and getting into the boat again, 
he went across to the other side. 

Now the disciples had forgotten to bring any bread; 
and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. 

 And he cautioned them, saying,

‘Watch out—
beware of the yeast of the Pharisees
and the yeast of Herod.’

They said to one another,
 ‘It is because we have no bread.’

And becoming aware of it, 
Jesus said to them, 
‘Why are you talking about having no bread?
 Do you still not perceive or understand? 
Are your hearts hardened? 
Do you have eyes, and fail to see? 
Do you have ears, and fail to hear?
 And do you not remember? 
When I broke the five loaves
for the five thousand,
 how many baskets full of broken pieces
did you collect?’

They said to him, 

‘And the seven
 for the four thousand, 
how many baskets full of broken pieces
did you collect?’ 

 and they said to him, 

Then he said to them,
 ‘Do you not yet understand?’