I’m not sure whether it’s Jesus or the gospel writer who chooses to double down in Mark 8, but this chapter brings us themes recurring from chapter 7 in a way that does not imply accidental repetition (such as the merging of two manuscripts) but rather the frustration of a very human Jesus with the numbskulls who follow him. The disciples have a way of making things about the bread rather than the good news.
Mark has Jesus feed two separate multitudes. Both times there is enough to go around, with plenty left over. After the second impromptu meal, the Pharisees come to Jesus asking for a sign from heaven. Hear that. After a few loaves and some fish have been multiplied to feed thousands of people – twice!!! – they come asking for a sign from heaven.
The disciples then proceed to obsess about their one remaining loaf of bread.
Jesus knew what they were discussing and said, “Why are you talking about the fact that you don’t have any bread? Don’t you grasp what has happened? Don’t you understand? Are your hearts so resistant to what God is doing? (Mark 8:17, CEB)
He *is* the sign from heaven.
They are being fed but do not know it.
These feeding stories are accompanied by two stories about healing people who are visually impaired. Again, to double down, the description of the second healing adds to the metaphor about spiritual blindness by describing the blurriness of the man’s newly restored sight. It takes a second laying on of Jesus’ hands to make the vision clear.
I can think of plenty of times in my life when I needed to see something more than once to understand it fully. And I was (most of the time) trying! The disciples may be slow, but they are trying, too. Jesus must know that, because he keeps talking to them, even though he is clearly frustrated with them.
But the Pharisees? They cannot see what they will not see. And Jesus is not laying his hands on their eyes. They will get no sign.
Holy One, thank you for your patience with me when I am slow to understand. Amen.
I’m posting this onboard a United flight to Chicago, where I will be holding a focus group for my Pastoral Study Project. Read about it and find the schedule for geographic and online focus groups at Sustaining Clergywomen.
I’m reading and blogging about Mark for Lent. Want to read along? I’m using the Common English Bible because it messes with my expectations of familiar passages. I am also referring to NRSV-based resources including The Jewish Annotated New Testament, and the New Interpreter’s Study Bible, as well as the online Greek interlinear Bible.