In this lesson, Jesus again crosses Galilee, going back into Gentile territory.
Prepare to listen. Silent preparation before praying: Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere your name. (Psalm 86:11)
Read Mark 8:11-21
11The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, asking him for a sign from heaven, to test him. 12And 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.’ 13And he left them, and getting into the boat again, he went across to the other side. 14Now the disciples had forgotten to bring any bread; and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. 15And he cautioned them, saying, ‘Watch out—beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.’ 16They said to one another, ‘It is because we have no bread.’ 17And 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? 18Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember? 19When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?’ They said to him, ‘Twelve.’ 20‘And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?’ And they said to him, ‘Seven.’ 21Then he said to them, ‘Do you not yet understand?’
‘Do you still not perceive or understand?’ Well, sadly, yes, at least ‘yes’ very often and sometimes always. ‘Are your hearts hardened?’ I don’t think I like that question, Lord. Is that my problem? I’m not sure I really like the other questions either, the ones about eyes that fail to see and ears that fail to hear and a mind that fails to remember. That’s getting very pointed and even a little ruthless, Jesus. But I can answer the next two questions as easily as the disciples. I know how many baskets were collected after feeding the five thousand and the four thousand—12 and 7, respectively. I feel good about knowing those minor details. But, why did you respond with a repeat of the question about not yet understanding? What am I supposed to understand?
This bombardment of Jesus’ interrogating questions is unsettling, and not just for the disciples then. We too fail to understand Jesus’ kingdom mission. We too fail to understand our enemy. We objectify the enemy as something or someone outside of us--those people (the ones we fear), or that teaching (the one that conflicts with our beliefs). But the truth is the enemy isn’t outside of us. It’s within—our blindness and deafness and forgetfulness. And it’s this enemy, more than anything else that causes our hardness of heart. We want Jesus’ kingdom to comfortably fit into our plans and activities, to exclude what we fear and hate. But it doesn’t work that way, as Jesus’ factual questions about how many loaves is attempting to get at, if we look deeper than literal facts. The number 12 in scripture is symbolic for Israel (the 12 tribes) and 7 is symbolic for completeness and fullness and, in this passage, a symbol for the inclusion of Gentiles. The 4000 Jesus fed were mostly of Gentile origin in this very Gentile region. The kingdom Jesus came to inaugurate is made up of a community of Jews and Gentiles, every tribe, every nation, every tongue; and some of them will be our theoretical enemies, the ones we fear. Is this what I’m supposed to perceive and understand, Jesus?
What is it about your life that might make Jesus say: You still don’t get it, do you?
In response to the testing by the Pharisees, Jesus ‘sighed deeply in his spirit.’ What do you think is happening today that might make him sigh deeply in his spirit?
Respond to Jesus in prayer
Lord, I still don’t understand much. I hear your questions and I will seek to live into answers as you guide me step by step. Amen.
Go and live obediently in the world where Jesus desires our understanding.