March 31, 2004
Mark 8

We begin with another loaves-and-fishes story. It's similar to the one in Mark 6, but this time Jesus provides a bit of analysis:

Now the disciples had forgotten to bring any bread; and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. 15And he cautioned them, saying, ‘Watch out—beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.’ 16They said to one another, ‘It is because we have no bread.’ 17And becoming aware of it, Jesus said to them, ‘Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember? 19When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?’ They said to him, ‘Twelve.’ 20‘And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?’ And they said to him, ‘Seven.’ 21Then he said to them, ‘Do you not yet understand?’

On the one hand, his rebuke seems straightforward: the disciples say they're out of bread, but Jesus reminds them that they're actually never out of bread, thanks to God's abundance. Since Jesus was just talking about "the yeast of Pharisees and the yeast of Herod," however, there's a strong suggestion that he's urging his followers toward a metaphorical interpretation. "Yeast" elsewhere in the Gospels refers to the growth of the Kingdom from small beginnings, and the warning about others' yeasts suggests that evil can grow likewise.

Why is Jesus so specific about the numbers? The thing that sticks out to me about them is that in the second instance, Jesus fed a smaller crowd with more loaves, and yet there was less left over. This suggests that either five loaves ultimately yields more bread than seven, or that the second crowd was hungrier. The former fact seems in keeping with the whole "the smaller and humbler the beginning, the bigger it gets" theme that I've mentioned already. The latter may point out that Jesus' crowds are getting smaller, as we go barrelling toward the night where even his apostles leave him, and yet their hunger for the bread of life is greater. This is, however, all in the category of "wild-ass guess," so I'd be curious to know what scholars have made of this.

This sense of urgency grows at the end of the chapter, when Peter first suggests that Jesus is the Messiah, and Jesus starts talking about how he will be crucified. Peter rebukes him for saying this (in typical apostle fashion, he instantly squanders whatever points he gained for correctly identifying Jesus), leading Jesus to give his famous "what profit to gain the world and lose your soul" speech (actually rendered "lose their life" in this translation).

I also notice that twice in this chapter Jesus refers negatively to "this generation" -- "this adulterous and sinful generation," he calls them at one point. It seems to go with the temporal attitude of God that I mentioned in my last post; talking about "this generation" implies that other generations might be different. One can imagine this was another one of those lines that spoke to the frustrated evangelists in the early church, trying to preach against the seemingly insurmoutable pagan dominance of their age. They had to trust that, like yeast and mustard seeds, the Word would grow, if not in this generation then those to follow.

Posted by Camassia at March 31, 2004 04:59 PM | TrackBack

Geez! I'd better catch up.


Posted by: Kynn Bartlett on April 1, 2004 07:28 PM

I suspect the numbers may have symbolic significance of some kind.

Posted by: Lynn Gazis-Sax on April 6, 2004 08:06 AM
Post a comment
Hi! I'd love to know your thoughts, but please read the rules of commenting:
- You must enter a valid email address
- No sock puppets
- No name-calling or obscene language


Email Address:



Remember info?