Red Letter Year: 1/31

Mark 8:1-21

About this time another large crowd had gathered, and the people ran out of food again. Jesus called his disciples and told them, 2 “I feel sorry for these people. They have been here with me for three days, and they have nothing left to eat. If I send them home hungry, they will faint along the way. For some of them have come a long distance.”

His disciples replied, “How are we supposed to find enough food to feed them out here in the wilderness?”

Jesus asked, “How much bread do you have?”

“Seven loaves,” they replied.

So Jesus told all the people to sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves, thanked God for them, and broke them into pieces. He gave them to his disciples, who distributed the bread to the crowd. A few small fish were found, too, so Jesus also blessed these and told the disciples to distribute them.

They ate as much as they wanted. Afterward, the disciples picked up seven large baskets of leftover food. There were about 4,000 people in the crowd that day, and Jesus sent them home after they had eaten. 10 Immediately after this, he got into a boat with his disciples and crossed over to the region of Dalmanutha.

11 When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had arrived, they came and started to argue with him. Testing him, they demanded that he show them a miraculous sign from heaven to prove his authority.

12 When he heard this, he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why do these people keep demanding a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, I will not give this generation any such sign.” 13 So he got back into the boat and left them, and he crossed to the other side of the lake.

14 But the disciples had forgotten to bring any food. They had only one loaf of bread with them in the boat. 15 As they were crossing the lake, Jesus warned them, “Watch out! Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod.”

16 At this they began to argue with each other because they hadn’t brought any bread. 17 Jesus knew what they were saying, so he said, “Why are you arguing about having no bread? Don’t you know or understand even yet? Are your hearts too hard to take it in? 18 ‘You have eyes—can’t you see? You have ears—can’t you hear?’ Don’t you remember anything at all? 19 When I fed the 5,000 with five loaves of bread, how many baskets of leftovers did you pick up afterward?”

“Twelve,” they said.

20 “And when I fed the 4,000 with seven loaves, how many large baskets of leftovers did you pick up?”

“Seven,” they said.

21 “Don’t you understand yet?” he asked them.


I know it seems like we just read this story about Jesus feeding a crowd, but there a couple of subtle differences worth noting. In the previous instance (Mark 6.30-44), Jesus had compassion on the crowd – so he taught them. The disciples were the ones to bring the need to Jesus’ attention. This time, he has been teaching them for three days straight; his compassion here is for their physical need. Also, note that Jesus is still in Gentile territory for this second feeding. His parable to the woman yesterday about feeding the dogs is made more ironic by this feeding miracle, where he is literally feeding a Gentile crowd.

His argument with the Pharisees is also rich in irony. If they really wanted a sign, why didn’t they just follow Jesus around for a day. He was doing a lot everyday. Word had gotten around. People were coming from all over to get healed by Jesus. They had heard all this. They knew full well their demand had already been met. But having turned a willfully blind eye to the miracles going on around them, they ask for another one. Jesus’ response is also ironic – he refuses to give a sign? He has given many, at least one to demonstrate his authority to forgive sins (Mark 2.10). But this time he says no. Maybe because no one has a serious need. Maybe because the Pharisees create a vibe like Jesus’ hometown synagogue did. Maybe because he knew the test was rigged, that their eyes would refuse to see just as their regularly refused to see. They are long on ritual practices and short on faith, using overly literal interpretations to protect their own positions of power and influence. Jesus warns that their thinking is like yeast – a little works its way into the whole batch and in this case ruins the loaf. To all that, Jesus says no.

And then we have the poor disciples. Mark depicts them being quite dense. They are slow to get it (to say the least). And they are a lot like us. “Don’t you understand yet?” is a question we need to hear Jesus asking us. Even better, we need to hear Jesus list the miracles he has done on our behalf. Jesus has compassion on us just as he did for the crowd. Jesus has done much in your life. Some you have forgotten. Some you may not be aware of. Jesus can do for you what he did in this passage, give a (most likely partial) list of miracles and healings he has performed in your life. Spend some time in Jesus’ compassion for you today. Spend some time letting him jog your memory. It’s a good way to ward off the yeast of the Pharisees, which is still active in the world today.

New Living Translation (NLT)

Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Red Letter Year: 1/30

Mark 7:24-37

24 Then Jesus left Galilee and went north to the region of Tyre. He didn’t want anyone to know which house he was staying in, but he couldn’t keep it a secret. 25 Right away a woman who had heard about him came and fell at his feet. Her little girl was possessed by an evil spirit, 26 and she begged him to cast out the demon from her daughter. Since she was a Gentile, born in Syrian Phoenicia, 27 Jesus told her, “First I should feed the children—my own family, the Jews. It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.”

28 She replied, “That’s true, Lord, but even the dogs under the table are allowed to eat the scraps from the children’s plates.”

29 “Good answer!” he said. “Now go home, for the demon has left your daughter.” 30 And when she arrived home, she found her little girl lying quietly in bed, and the demon was gone.

31 Jesus left Tyre and went up to Sidon before going back to the Sea of Galilee and the region of the Ten Towns. 32 A deaf man with a speech impediment was brought to him, and the people begged Jesus to lay his hands on the man to heal him. 33 Jesus led him away from the crowd so they could be alone. He put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then, spitting on his own fingers, he touched the man’s tongue. 34 Looking up to heaven, he sighed and said, “Ephphatha,” which means, “Be opened!” 35 Instantly the man could hear perfectly, and his tongue was freed so he could speak plainly!

36 Jesus told the crowd not to tell anyone, but the more he told them not to, the more they spread the news. 37 They were completely amazed and said again and again, “Everything he does is wonderful. He even makes the deaf to hear and gives speech to those who cannot speak.”


Here we see Jesus trying to get away from the hustle and bustle, the press of the crowds, by crossing over into what we now call Lebanon. Even there people know who he is, so it turns into a busy getaway, and results in two of the stranger stories in all the Gospels. The first follows an established pattern: desperate, unclean person comes to Jesus and receives healing. We’ve seen this before. This woman has three things that mean she shouldn’t even be talking to Jesus: her gender, her Gentile-ness, and the demon living in her also-a-Gentile-and-female daughter. Jesus delivers her daughter just as she asked, but not before calling her a dog. Some commentators note that the Greek word here means “house pet dog,” not the “mangy, street dog” term used so often as a racial slur. Still, he calls her a dog, which rubs the wrong way when we read it. Was Jesus feeling grumpy (again? – remember the boat nap that was interrupted)? Was he testing this woman (he has not done that so far)? Was he echoing what someone else either said or was thinking (maybe some of his disciples, who are more conspicuous in Matthew’s telling)? I like the last one myself, but honestly, we aren’t told.

What is definite is that this episode drives home the argument Jesus was making yesterday about what is unclean. Jesus does talk to this woman, he praises her faith, and he heals her daughter. Whatever Jesus’ motive was in calling her a dog, it in no way dissuaded her. She came to Jesus because no one else could help. Her daughter needed deliverance. A little name calling was not about to get in her way. Do we have that kind of tenacity? Job said, “Even if God slays me, I will trust in him.” (Job 13.15) This Lebanese woman felt the same way.

The second story is a bit strange too, with the spitting, touching the man’s tongue, putting fingers in his ears (wet willies?), speaking Aramaic and sighing deeply. It is true that (much like our own day) back then faith healers went around doing their thing, which incudes spit, touching the affected organ, saying foreign words (like a magic incantation), looking up to heaven, and sighing. But so far, Jesus has not done this sort of thing at all. His has not shown a flair for the dramatic when healing people. He might have been trying to communicate what he was doing to the man in terms he could understand (like a sign language of sorts).

Let one or both of these scenes sit with you today. Let the faith of the woman and the joy of the crowd fill your heart. Everything he does is wonderful.

New Living Translation (NLT)

Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.