12 February 2016

Mark 8:11-26

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

Psalm: Psalm 34:11-22


The Pharisees were a powerful pressure group in the 1st century. Their aim was to purify Judaism by a strict and careful keeping of the Jewish law. They put their trust in their accurate understanding of the law. They thought that Jesus was not strict enough in his interpretation of law. They wanted him to produce a sign to show that he had God's authority to say the things he said.

Just before this passage Jesus has fed 4,000 people with 7 loaves. This was in fact a very strong sign, showing Jesus' authority, because he had God's power to do these things. Jesus' sense of sadness and frustration is shown in his sighing deeply in his spirit (verse 12). He must have been tempted to be very discouraged.

Jesus did not focus, on this occasion, on the Pharisees and trying to win the argument. Instead he tried to help his disciples understand his teaching. Perhaps Jesus realised that they had more chance of understanding him because they were living their lives in a relationship with him. On this occasion the disciples had brought only one loaf of bread with them for the boat journey, which was not enough to feed them all. The conversation again seemed to be on where to find food.

Bread and journey are strong symbols connecting to the ancient flight of the Israelites from slavery to Egypt. The Israelites had let Egypt in a hurry and had had to leave the bread they took unleavened, flat not risen (Exodus 12:34). There was not enough time to let it rise. Jesus seemed to suggest that the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod will slow down and destroy Jesus' ministry of bringing freedom to the oppressed (verse 15). Perhaps this is why he didn't stop to argue with the Pharisees.

Jesus became even more frustrated with the disciples because although his miraculous ministry was happening around them, and they were participating in it, they did not fully or really understand. They had eyes but didn't see; ears but didn't hear. He reminded them of the miracles of the feeding miracles and challenged them to understand.

Jesus then healed a man who was blind (verses 22-25). The healing took two stages. After the first stage he could see partially, and then finally he could see clearly. Just as the disciples could see partially, they would eventually be able to see clearly.

To Ponder

  • We have a danger in our society of consuming one experience after another without much reflection. When do you take time out to think about the significance of the things that are happening around you? Try to find some time in the next day or so to do this.
  • Why do you think the disciples were so slow to appreciate the significance of the teaching of Jesus? How far do you think you are like (or not like) them?
  • Why do you think bread is such an important religious symbol? What does it mean to you, and is there a similar symbol which is different but more powerful for you? Why?

Bible notes author

The Revd Jenny Ellis

Jenny is a Methodist minister and this year has permission to study, as well as work alongside a rural chapel to help it find a new physical presence and sense of mission in its village. She is leading a number of quiet and study days.