Worth doing twice (Mark 8:1-7)

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Sometimes I wonder what tone Mark expects us to read different episodes from his Gospel in and where the emphasis is.  I imagine that 8:1 is meant to sound something like:

“and the people ran out of food AGAIN.”

We’ve been here before, and at first sight it looks like Galileans were poor planners.  This summer, our church met in a local park each Sunday with the idea being that we each brought our picnic lunch. Now, if the first-time round, everyone forgot to bring something you’d maybe blame communication and someone might nip down to Aldi for some bread rolls and ham. If we kept turning up without anything, then I think the organisers would be entitled to say “That’s your problem. You are just going to have to fast.”

Indeed, Jesus could have gone with that assumption. Maybe the people didn’t simply assume it would all be over well before lunch. Maybe the assumed that it was worth giving their attention to, maybe the expected to fast for the important preacher.  Yet, Jesus is insistent that they should be fed. His concern for their physical provision offering a visible sign of his desire and his ability to meet their spiritual hunger.

There’s also a presumption by liberal theologians that if anything gets repeated in the Bible or seems similar to something else, then it’s because of a mistake on the part of the author/editor. Silly Mark didn’t realise he’d already included a feeding miracle.  So, in the Old Testament you have a few apparent repetitions.

  • Abraham goes down to Egypt and out of fear passes off Sarah as his sister leading to plagues and judgement.  Then he goes to spend time with a king called Abimelech and does exactly the same again, with similar consequences (Gen 20:1-16)
  • Elijah looks after a widow with miraculous provision. So, does Elisha.

It’s argued that an editor has picked up two different accounts of ach event and not realised that this is what’s happened -as though we don’t have a habit of repeating our mistakes and as though God isn’t faithful and doesn’t keep doing good to us. 

So, Mark makes it clear. He’s not made a mistake. He knows that this is a second occasion and so too is Jesus.  No, there’s a purpose to the double miracle and Jesus will help us to see it a bit later on in the chapter.

We’ll come to the purpose later on in the week but for now, I simply want to draw your attention to this. Yes, there’s the failure of the crowd to prepare and there’s the failure of the disciples to show trusting remembrance.  They act as though this is the first time they’ve been asked to feed a crowd. Instead of remembering that Jesus has provided before they ask

 “How are we supposed to find enough food to feed them out here in the wilderness?”[1]

Oh and did you spot that “here in the wilderness.”  It’s not just the second time that God’s people have been in such a situation. God’s people, Israel have been out in the wilderness before wondering what they would do for food during the Exodus. God fed them that time miraculously too with manna (bread) and Quails (meat).

So, yes there’s failure and yes there’s forgetfulness. Yet all of this is part of Christ’s purpose. His purpose is to do good to them, to feed them, to teach them and to lead them.  And so, he does it again. He performs a similar miracle. The food is blessed, distributed and eaten. Once again, there’s more than enough.

  1. Is there something that it seems is “on repeat” in your life or in the life of the church right now?  Could it be that God’s purpose is to teach your/us something?
  2. Do you trust Jesus to do you good?
  3. Are you confident that God’s grace and mercy are more than enough, that there is super abundant, overflowing provision?

[1] Mark 8:4.

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