Have you ever experienced Dejavu?
How good is your eye-sight?
Read Mark 8:1-26
Jesus fed a crowd of 5000+ people with just 2 fish and 5 loaves in Chapter 6. He then ignored the question of the Pharisees in Chapter 7 and, instead, called out their hypocrisy. Then, in the same chapter, he opened the ears and mouth of a man. For 7 chapters, Jesus has been preaching with signs and authority. He has had his 12 disciples watching him and learning from him all this time. They have asked themselves, “Who is this man?” And Jesus has asked them, “Are you so dull?”
- 1-10 Jesus feeds a large crowd (again)
- 11-13 Jesus brushes off the Pharisees (again)
- 14-21 The disciples do not understand (again)
- 22-26 Jesus heals a blind man in two stages
1-10 Jesus feeds a large crowd (again)
“…large crowd…nothing to eat…” John’s gospel is recorded as saying that if all the things that Jesus did were recorded then he supposes the whole world would not be big enough to fit all the books! So, for Mark to record a miracle so similar to the one recorded only a chapter ago is a little overkill. Unless, there is a point to him doing this.
“I have compassion for these people…” The last time this happened, it was the disciples approaching Jesus to suggest the people needed feeding. Jesus shows his compassion and invites his disciples in for consultation on how to resolve the issue. We would hope that the disciples get excited and ask Jesus if he would feed the crowd again. But they are dull and have not understood who they are with and how this is supposed to work!
“They had a few small fish as well…” Reading these verses is like playing “Spot the Difference” to see what is the same and what is new. The account is so strikingly similar to the last feeding that it’s hard to understand where the disciple’s heads are at. The differences convince us that this is a new event and not a mistake in the writing.
11-13 Jesus brushes off the Pharisees (again)
“The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven.” Reading this straight after the feeding miracle is ironic. But they are in a different location so we need to give the Pharisees a small break. Except that Jesus has been doing miracles for ages now. It feels like they have come quite late to the party. Jesus has had a public ministry for quite a while, enough to gather crowds of thousands to him, and the Pharisees are only now taking interest. And they want Jesus to perform magic tricks for them.
“He sighed deeply…” See also Mark 7:34. Looking at the ESV you’ll see “he sighed deeply in his spirit and said…” This is a better translation. It is difficult to conclude how these two ‘sighs’ are connected or not. There are enough differences in the sentences (in the Greek) to interpret them based on context. That is, the meaning behind the sigh can be different for each instance. The question that comes out with the sigh is the context to read:
“Why does this generation seek a sign?” Jesus is not going to humour the Pharisees. He is not willing to cast pearls before swine. In God’s foreknowledge, he knows their hearts and they have more than enough to go on by now. It is a lesson for us to not always answer people’s questions. That’s not a rule.
“…no sign will be given to this generation.” This does sound peculiar doesn’t it? That generation has been given plenty of signs! I take it that Jesus announces that if they have not seen them then they will not be given them! Matthew 12:38ff gives a similar account where Jesus proceeds to tell them that only the sign of Jonah will be given them. I’m reminded of the answer to the rich man who found himself in hell and asked if God would send someone back from the dead to warn people and the reply is given: even if someone were to be raised from the dead, they would still not believe.
14-21 The disciples do not understand (again)
“The disciples had forgotten to bring bread…” The story of the feeding of 4000 and the Pharisees asking for a sign comes to a crunch here when we see the disciples thinking about bread while Jesus warns them of hard heartedness.
“…the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.” 1Cor5:6-8 gives the same analogy of yeast that spreads throughout if it is not removed. Luke 12:1 expands on Jesus’ words here to say that the yeast of the Pharisees is hypocrisy. Lastly, Mark 12:13 accounts the Pharisees along with the Herodians coming to Jesus to trap him. Jesus warns the disciples to be on their guard against such a mindset that can spread. They are not for Jesus but against him. And their views will eventually get Jesus to the cross.
“Why are you talking about having no bread?” We know why they were, because they are dense and not paying attention.
“Do you still not see or understand?” Jesus accuses them of being blind, stupid, hard hearted and deaf. He then quizzes them to help them to see and understand. He is leading them to water but he needs them to take the drink. He ends with the question for the disciples and for us readers: do you still not understand?
NB: The number 12 and the number 7 can simply mean that they had more left over than they did at the beginning. It was a miracle. However, some will feel compelled to highlight that 12 is the number of tribes of Israel and the number of disciples and the number 7 is the complete number. Therefore, Jesus is able to feed completely all the people of God with nobody missing out and everybody satisfied. It does sound very nice and it may be important too. I’m just blown away by the abundance of God’s generosity. He had compassion on the crowd and he provided liberally.
22-26 Jesus heals a blind man (again?)
“Do you see anything?” Jesus is given opportunity for another healing but Mark puts this healing here in the narrative for good reason. The disciples had just been asked, ‘Do you still not see?’ It is not a coincidence that this man is asked if he can see and then we find that he is not quite healed.
“I see people, they look like trees walking around.” The miracle is that he can now see! He sees people where he couldn’t before. But they are fuzzy, like the leaves of a tree. Is Jesus losing his touch?
“Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his…sign was restored.” This healing came in two stages. Jesus had interacted with this blind man and he could somewhat see, but then Jesus worked again and he could finally see and see completely. We need to stay tuned and see if the disciples’ eyes will be fully opened.
Suggested questions for running this study.
Q1. What things in this passage have we seen before? (feeding, Pharisees and blind healing)
Q2. What things are new? (hint, look at some minor details in each story)
Q3. What does Jesus discuss with the disciples in the boat? What does Jesus want his disciples to do?
Q4. What does the healing of the blind man in Verses 22-26 teach us?
The disciples are with Jesus but they are not seeing who he is. They didn’t seem too impressed by the first crowd feeding and the second time was no different! They seem too focused on taking bread inventory to notice what it all means. While Jesus has written off the Pharisees and Herodians as hopelessly lost in their hypocrisy, he has hopes that the disciples will eventually see. The two stage healing of the blind man is a little metaphor for the disciples who have not yet fully seen Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God.
Challenge#1 Jesus’ compassion is matched by his generosity
Look at these verses which remind us of how generous God has been on us whom he had compassion on:
- Titus 3:4-7
- 1 Timothy 1:12-15
- Romans 5:5-6
- Ephesians 1:3-10
Challenge#2 Do you still not see?
This is the obvious question. It is completely possible, and common, for church members to have their eyes only partially open. The knowledge of sins forgiven, of Jesus the Saviour and Lord and of eternal life are understood. But the teaching of the New Testament – the teaching which our dull and slow learning disciples wrote – teaches us to go further. To know Christ, to be filled with the knowledge and wisdom that comes by the Spirit of God through the word of God. Some Christians will still be wondering if they’ve packed enough bread instead of noticing that the creator of all things is with them in the boat!
Challenge#3 Beware the yeast of the Pharisee
Hard hearted hypocrisy is seen when it’s not Jesus Christ that we are preaching and worshiping but our own lives established on self-righteousness and greed. It doesn’t spread by evangelism or conspiracy, but through blindedness to Christ. Taking our eyes off the kingdom of God and drifting with the masses who only see benefits in this world – in a worldly way – that spreads like a catchy tune.