This chapter marks a significant turning point in Jesus’ life and ministry as we will see over the next several posts. He has travelled all around the area surrounding the Sea of Galilee teaching about the Time being fulfilled and God’s Kingdom coming. This is the message that goes by the name Gospel or Good News in Mark’s writing (see here). According to Jesus, the proper response to this Gospel is to believe and repent. Jesus has substantiated his teaching by performing incredible miracles and demonstrating his authority over the demonic. He teaches with an authority that the crowds of people find amazing. But his words and actions have put him at odds with the religious and political leadership of his day. At this point in the story we have this feeling that if Jesus doesn’t stop saying and doing these things, he is going to get himself in serious trouble. But, chapter 8 begins in familiar fashion; Jesus is teaching and performing a miracle. In Mark 8:1-26 we learn that in spite of our lack of understanding, our doubting and our continual turning away to lesser things, God is compassionate and has remained faithful to us. This will be seen in the next few blog posts.
Let’s start today by reading Mark 8:1-10.
This is a very similar story to what we read in chapter 6 at the feeding of the 5000. There are some differences in the numbers – here Jesus feeds 4000 people with 7 loaves and a few fish. Verse 2 lets us know that Jesus is moved with compassion because of the needs of these people so he instructs his disciples to meet their needs. We’ve been here before in chapter 6, so you would expect the disciples to remember that. But, in verse 4 we read the disciples’ response “How do you expect us to do that!?!” So Jesus goes through the same thing he did when he fed the 5000. In Verse 5 he asks “how many loaves do you have?” In verse 6 he tells the crowd to sit down and he gives thanks for the bread and gives it to the disciples to distribute. In verse 7 he does the same thing with the fish. The result is seen in verse 8, everyone ate and was satisfied. They even took up 7 baskets of leftovers. Then Jesus sends everyone home, and they get in their boat to sail to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.
Why include this story since it is so similar? I think there are at least two reasons why we have such a similar story retold.
Remember the purpose of the feeding of the 5000 was primarily to show Jesus is Israel’s True King because he has compassion on his people and provides for them unlike the false kings. So what is the purpose of this story?
One reason this story is included is to show the Gentiles get the “Bread” too. The Decapolis, or area of 10 cities was not Jewish territory so it’s likely that this crowd was made up of non-Jews. This crowd may have gathered because of Jesus healing the deaf and mute man at the end of chapter 7, because even though he told them to be quiet, they spoke about him openly. One reason this story is included to show subtly Jesus’ inclusion of the Gentiles. In addition to being in the Decapolis, the word used for “basket” is different in this story than the word used for “basket” in chapter 6. It would relate more to a Gentile culture than a Jewish one. An additional reason to deduce this, is the overall context of the story includes the story of the Syrophonecian woman and the deaf and mute man of chapter 7. This is the feeding of the 5000 equivalent for Gentiles. Jesus is the compassionate King who not only has mercy on his own people, but on other people who are far from home. All who comes to him is satisfied – Jew and Gentile alike.
A second reason this story is included is to continue to show the disciples as following Jesus without fully understanding Jesus. When we read this it’s almost laughable when Jesus says to feed the crowd. In verse 4 they say “How are we going to do that?” We almost expect Jesus to say “are you serious, don’t you just remember what I did not so long ago?” But he doesn’t. His response is patient and he explains the directions to them again. We see that the disciples still don’t get it after more miracles and more teaching. We are left with a question in our minds, “What is it going to take for them to understand who Jesus is and what he is doing?” The character development of the disciples is another reason to include this story. Their understanding will require more teaching, more miracles, and more patience on the part of our Lord. This is pointing forward to Jesus’ death and resurrection. Last time when they left the crowd, Jesus sent his disciples across the lake, then met up with them walking on the water. This time, in verse 10, he gets in the boat with them and they go to another region around the Sea of Galilee.
In Jesus, we have a way to be forgiven and accepted by God irrespective to our race or background. There is equality at the foot of the cross. God extends his offer of forgiveness and new life to all of us, no matter how far from him we may be. Even those of us who are close, often misunderstand, disobey, and doubt. But God is patient with us. He calls all of us to repentance and belief in his Son. Through him, we are made clean and we are given citizenship in the Kingdom of God.