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.

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