14 February 2011

Mark 8:11-13

"Why does generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation." (v. 12)


The Pharisees feature regularly in Mark's Gospel as the opposition to Jesus. Historically they were an influential group of religious teachers who sought to reform the Jewish people by strict compliance with the law of Moses and their interpretations of its meaning. And at many points Jesus differed from them.

Here they are presented as demanding a 'sign' from heaven (that is, from God), some miraculous event which would authenticate Jesus and so induce them to accept his teaching as God-given. There are many examples in the Old Testament of such signs. For readers of this Gospel there is a particular irony in the request, because in the immediately preceding passage (verses 1-10) Jesus has miraculously fed a crowd of 4,000. But there is no indication that we are to imagine the Pharisees having been present.

The Pharisees do not stand alone, however. They are typical of "this generation" in looking for proof before committing themselves. But proof is not to be given. As the readings from Mark's Gospel throughout this week illustrate, what is called for is faith based on insight, and the courage to commit ourselves. The basic failure of the Pharisees is that they are not willing to take that step. They do not expect a sign. Their question is merely to 'test' Jesus, that is, to expose him as a fraud for not producing what they demand. As we sometimes say, 'there is none so blind as those who won't see'.

To Ponder

In what ways today do we look for proof to bolster our faith?

If there are no proofs for what we believe, to what extent does that mean that faith is irrational?

This week's theme is 'The Light of Glory'. Can glory be seen in things that are not obviously glorious? What examples of this come to mind?

Bible notes author

The Revd Brian Beck

Brian Beck is a Methodist minister, now retired, and a former president and secretary of the Methodist Conference. A large part of his ministry has been spent in theological education, both in Limuru, Kenya, and in Cambridge, England..