15 February 2011

Mark 8:14-21

"Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear?" (v. 18)


It is difficult to follow the thread of this passage and the modern reader is likely to ask many questions to which there are no obvious answers. Why was just one loaf a problem when more could be bought when the disciples completed their journey across the lake? How can they have forgotten that Jesus has twice fed a multitude with just a few loaves and fish and could surely meet their need with the one loaf they have? (See Mark 6:30-44 and (so recently!) 8:1-9.) What is the connection between verses 14 and 15? But we must not be distracted by all this from the main points of the passage.

Because of its capacity in just small quantities to affect a large amount of dough, yeast is used from time to time in the New Testament as a metaphor for the influence a few people can have on many others - sometimes for good (eg Matthew 13:33), sometimes, as here, for evil. The Pharisees are regularly portrayed as unable, or unwilling, to recognise that Jesus is from God. Perhaps Herod represents those who recognise the truth only too well, fear it, and try to suppress it, as he did with John the Baptist (Mark 6:17-29). Such attitudes are contagious.

What is it that the disciples do not understand (verse 21)? Is it just that Jesus is capable of feeding them if need be, or have they missed a profounder point in the feeding miracles about who Jesus really is and what authority he represents? But we are not told, and so verse 21 becomes a question to us as readers. Overall today's reading, part of a longer sequence contrasting those who see the truth and those who do not, emphasises that even those who might be expected to be closest to understanding may in fact miss the point.

To Ponder

Reflect on moments when for you 'the penny dropped' and you first realised a truth that now seems blindingly obvious.

Identify present-day influences that may make it harder to see the truth about God?. How can we be on guard against them?

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..