"Another large crowd" – of Gentiles this time

Posted Mar 9, 2018

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Daily Scripture

Mark 8:1-21

In those days there was another large crowd with nothing to eat. Jesus called his disciples and told them, 2 “I feel sorry for the crowd because they have been with me for three days and have nothing to eat. 3 If I send them away hungry to their homes, they won’t have enough strength to travel, for some have come a long distance.”

4 His disciples responded, “How can anyone get enough food in this wilderness to satisfy these people?”

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

They said, “Seven loaves.”

6 He told the crowd to sit on the ground. He took the seven loaves, gave thanks, broke them apart, and gave them to his disciples to distribute; and they gave the bread to the crowd. 7 They also had a few fish. He said a blessing over them, then gave them to the disciples to hand out also. 8 They ate until they were full. They collected seven baskets full of leftovers. 9 This was a crowd of about four thousand people! Jesus sent them away, 10 then got into a boat with his disciples and went over to the region of Dalmanutha.

11 The Pharisees showed up and began to argue with Jesus. To test him, they asked for a sign from heaven. 12 With an impatient sigh, Jesus said, “Why does this generation look for a sign? I assure you that no sign will be given to it.” 13 Leaving them, he got back in the boat and crossed to the other side of the lake.

14 Jesus’ disciples had forgotten to bring any bread, so they had only one loaf with them in the boat. 15 He gave them strict orders: “Watch out and be on your guard for the yeast of the Pharisees as well as the yeast of Herod.”

16 The disciples discussed this among themselves, “He said this because we have no bread.”

17 Jesus knew what they were discussing and said, “Why are you talking about the fact that you don’t have any bread? Don’t you grasp what has happened? Don’t you understand? Are your hearts so resistant to what God is doing? 18 Don’t you have eyes? Why can’t you see? Don’t you have ears? Why can’t you hear? Don’t you remember? 19 When I broke five loaves of bread for those five thousand people, how many baskets full of leftovers did you gather?”

They answered, “Twelve.”

20 “And when I broke seven loaves of bread for those four thousand people, how many baskets full of leftovers did you gather?”

They answered, “Seven.”

21 Jesus said to them, “And you still don’t understand?”

Reflection Questions

Mark’s purpose, in telling this story (not long after Mark 6:30-44), was not merely to say, “Jesus did it again!” This event likely took place in the region of the Ten Cities, the Decapolis (cf. Mark 7:31), and if so, most of the 4,000 would have been Gentiles. Jesus fed them as bountifully and as caringly as he did the Jewish crowd in chapter 6. Yet when he tried to use the image of yeast to warn his disciples against teachings different from his, they took him with an almost silly literalism.

  • Acts 11:1-3 and 15:1-6 show that some early Christians, trained in the Jewish faith, found it hard to accept Gentiles as full citizens in God’s Kingdom. How would Mark’s stories of Jesus miraculously feeding two crowds, one Jewish and one Gentile, point toward God’s view of that issue? Are there any people who, for whatever reasons, you aren’t sure “fit” in God’s family today?
  • What was “the yeast of the Pharisees,” and “the yeast of Herod”? The Pharisees wanted a Messianic kingdom set up just for law-keeping Jews; Herod and company wanted a political kingdom that treated them as legitimate kings. Jesus' vision was different from both, higher and more expansive, and he wanted his disciples to “get it.” How do you see Jesus' kingdom (for which we pray each week in worship)? Have there been times when Jesus' actions and teachings expanded your sense of the kingdom’s reach and impact?

Prayer

Lord Jesus, it seems all your disciples could see in your feedings of large crowds was fish and bread. Help me focus my attention on your life-changing power and compassion, on your kingdom that is higher and greater than anything I could imagine. Amen.

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Darren Lippe

Darren Lippe

Darren Lippe helps facilitate Journey 101 “Loving God” classes, guides a 7th-grade Sunday school class, is a member of a small group and a men’s group, and serves on the curriculum team.

The boys have been having fun lately with various Classic Dad meme postings. One video particularly tickled them: “Dad in Khaki Shorts & White Tennis Shoes.” Unfortunately, I happened upon them watching this clip while wearing my, um, khaki shorts and white tennis shoes. This is known in the parenting business as “bad timing.” These memes extend to strict rules about the thermostat, love of outdoor grills, and domineering the remote control: A Dad is asleep in front of the TV. Son changes the channel. Dad wakes up and says, “Hey, I was watching that.”

Or like the Son seeking career advice: Dad, I’m trying to get a job with this company that sells moisturizer. What should I do? Apply daily.

One of my favorite exchanges is between a Father and Son sitting on the front porch. Son: How far away is the moon? Father: I used to know, but I’m not sure. Son: Is that a Sycamore tree? Father: I think it is Elm or Oak. Son: Which star is… oh never mind. Father:  No, Son. Always ask questions – how else will you learn?

Today’s passage raises all sorts of questions. Let’s take a look and see what we might learn.

Why does Jesus travel to the North of Galilee to the nation of Phoenicia – a prosperous Gentile region that was considered an economic rival of Jerusalem? Jesus’ choice to travel here wasn’t accidental. (When you walk everywhere you go, you don’t make excursions on a whim.) I would submit Jesus wanted to expand His ministry to the Gentile population. Mark would understandably document this scene since he is writing for a predominately Roman audience. Mark’s readers would have been very familiar with this Ten Town region and would have been comforted when Jesus extended radical hospitality to a non-Jewish crowd.

How could Jesus attract a crowd of 4,000 people? Jesus had already been busy healing people and casting out demons in the area, so word of these miracles would have traveled quickly even to these non-Jewish regions. More impressively, this isn’t a crowd on the Temple steps in densely populated Jerusalem; this is by the lakeshore. We always talk about the Israelites anxiously waiting for their Messiah, but sometimes we may overlook the yearning the Gentiles must have felt to know their Creator.

So, this lakeside revival is beginning to wrap up. Jesus has compassion on the crowd. They’ve been there 3 days and He knows they don’t have provisions to see them safely home. This is fascinating on 2 levels: One, the crowd apparently didn’t expect to stay with Jesus so long. His persona and message must have been so compelling they didn’t want it to end. Two, Jesus isn’t going to leave His newest followers in a lurch. He takes steps to ensure they are properly prepared for their journey home.

Finally, there isn’t a dramatic miracle scene here. Jesus simply thanks God for the bread and it is amazingly multiplied. I would submit Mark doesn’t want us to be distracted from the key themes of the scene.

So what might this mean for us today? 

  • Jesus’ message is never limited by geography, nationality, or ethnicity. 
  • What inconveniences might we be willing to endure to hear God’s message for our lives today?  (I mean, besides parking lot traffic or weak coffee – because that would be over the top.)
  • Instead of rushing off to our next gig, perhaps, like our Phoenician friends, we should carve out time in our schedule to just linger with God.
  • God is always attentive to our needs – large or small.
  • Sometimes, the most amazing miracles start with just saying, “Thank you, God.”

Now, if you will excuse me I have to try out my new universal remote control. I have a feeling this could change everything.

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