A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
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I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Monday, February 23, 2015

Learning the Content of the Name: A Lectionary Reflection on Mark 8:31-38

Mark 8:31-38

At the beginning of Mark 8 we read that the crowd is once again in a desolate place, and Jesus is concerned with their physical well-being. In several places the Hebrew Scriptures promise that God's future salvation will make the desert blossom. Just as God supplied food to the people in the wilderness of Sinai, so the people of Israel looked forward to the day when God would bring a new Exodus of deliverance that would supply an abundance. The miracle of feeding the masses from a few loaves of bread and some fish was a sign that the hope of Israel was now being fulfilled in Jesus.


The disciples had witnessed the feeding of the five thousand; one might have hoped that they would, by this time, understand that what Jesus had done once, he could do again. But they respond as if Jesus has performed no miracle before. "How can one feed these people with bread here in the desert?"

Before distributing the bread and the fish, Jesus gives thanks. "Blessed are you Lord our God, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth." The substance of the everyday is to be received in thanksgiving, not simply in experiencing the miraculous, nor only when God protects from disaster.

As to be expected the people eat until they are satisfied, and there are leftovers. As Jesus sends the crowd away, he immediately (there's that word again) gets into a boat with his disciples, to seek a quiet place.

Such is, once again, not to be the case. The Pharisees, who have already made up their minds about Jesus, come to him asking for a sign. It is irrelevant that Jesus has performed many signs. They have already decided that Jesus is an imposter, and nothing will deter them from their disbelief in Jesus. But Jesus is not at the Pharisees' beck and call. His signs are glimpses of the coming Kingdom and performed for the benefit of humanity. Jesus is not some "snake-oil" salesman performing the incredible for people who just want to see a show, nor is he interested in doing the miraculous for those who desire to prove him to be a charlatan.

Jesus' warning to the disciples over the yeast (the evil) of the Pharisees and the Herodians is misunderstood by them as a rebuke for forgetting to bring more bread with them on the boat. Jesus' exasperation is clearly revealed. After all they have been through with him, after what they have seen and witnessed, they still do not get that since Jesus is God's Anointed; he will provide what they need.

After the healing of a blind man in the town of Bethsaida, Jesus asks the disciples what the rumors are about concerning his identity. Human beings love to speculate, and there was no end of speculation as to who Jesus was. Knowing that the disciples must answer that question as well, he asks them, "But who do you say that I am." Peter responds, "You are the Messiah." He knows the name, but has yet to learn the content of that name. When Jesus attempts to explain to the disciples what it means for him to be the Messiah, Peter, acting like Jesus' superior, begins to correct his misunderstanding in a condescending way.

Jesus now feels the need to instruct the disciples and the crowd on what true discipleship means. Jesus, the suffering servant will pave the way for salvation by his suffering and death, but those who would follow should not assume that the way of discipleship is all sweetness and light. The way of the cross is for those who would follow as well; it is a walking in the footsteps of the Master.

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