Some people just don’t get it. They should get it but, for whatever reason, they simply don’t get it.
The disciples are among those kinds of people. Even though these are the guys who follow Jesus around and are his closest companions, the Gospel stories show time and again that they…Just. Don’t. Get. It.
I can imagine Jesus dealing with them. They say or do something so ridiculous he can’t help but facepalm. We find one of these instances in Mark 8:
In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?”
Here we start the facepalm. The scenario is eerily similar to the earlier story where Jesus fed 5,000 people with loaves and fish. This has led some people to conclude that there were two versions of the story circulating in Mark’s time, and that Mark mistakenly included both. While this might be a viable possibility for some people, it fails to account for two things: 1) the standard Christian understanding of the inspiration of Scripture and 2) the differences between the stories actually set up different points/purposes of each narrative.
As to our understanding of inspiration, our belief that the Bible has divine origin and spark within it means that there is a godly intentionality that underlies the text. Our concept of inspiration is not something that can be proven or disproven by science—it’s a statement of faith. If you don’t believe it, I can’t convince you otherwise.
As to the different points of each narrative, that is more easily demonstrable. The first story highlighted Jesus as a new Moses. The people sat in groups in the wilderness just as Moses and the Israelite nation split into various groups/camps in the book of Exodus. Jesus providing his crowds echoes God providing for Israel in the desert.
By the time we get to the second story here in Mark 8, the story is set against the first story, almost as a check on learning for the disciples. Picture Jesus saying, “You were with me the first time. What’s gonna happen here and now?”
But the disciples fail the quiz. “Where can we get enough bread?!”
And he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.” And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd. And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them. And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. And there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away.
In addition to some of the numerical details being different in the stories (numbers of bread, fish, and people), Jesus is in a different location. While he spoke to Jewish people in the first narrative that had echoes of Moses and the Exodus, here Jesus is working in a Gentile area. Jesus’s ministry and blessing extends beyond the Jews and is for Gentiles as well. That Jesus extends his ministry to non-Jews is brought up previously when the Syrophoenician woman approaches him for help. Just as before, Jesus is able to abundantly bless and provide for those who follow him.
And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha. The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.”
Cue the facepalm. Immediately after performing this incredible thing, the religious leaders come and ask for a sign. When Jesus says that no sign will be given, part of me wonders if he’s really saying, “There’s not a sign that you will recognize.” Jesus has been giving signs, but people are too blind to see what is right in front of their faces.
And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side. Now they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread. And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”
And the disciples continue in their blindness. They have seen Jesus provide in times of need, and they continue to fret about their lack. So Jesus warns them about being like the Pharisees. “I’m giving you stuff, but are you going to stay blind, too?!” So Mark gives us a miracle story that acts as a living parable, illustrating his whole point.
And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. And he sent him to his home, saying, “Do not even enter the village.”
After his initial encounter with Jesus this blind guy sees, but only in part. It’s kind of like the religious leaders and disciples. They should be able to see Jesus clearly, but clearly they can’t! Jesus might as well be a walking tree in front of them. So Jesus touches the guy again and he finally sees clearly. Cut to the disciples:
And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.
Finally! Peter’s vision is clearing up and he sees Jesus for who he is.
He. Is. The. Christ.
This is the Gospel message for Jews and Gentiles alike. This Jesus is the one who came to provide abundant life, even when we’re in the wilderness. This Jesus is the one to lead the new exodus, taking these slaves into the spiritual promised land. Don’t miss the signs that are right in front of you. Don’t mistake the people for trees.
Here is our King.