Today’s Reading: Mark 8-9
Today’s Reflection: Mark 8:8-9
8) And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. 9) And there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away.
In this story Jesus feeds a multitude—4,000 men, plus women and children besides—with just a small portion of food, seven small loaves of bread and a few small fishes. You might be wondering, didn’t Jesus do this already? And you’d be right. Back in Mark 6:30-44, the story is told of Jesus feeding a multitude—5,000 men, plus women and children besides—with just a small portion of food, five small loaves of bread and two fishes.
So what’s so important about this second story? Furthermore, why did the disciples express doubt that Jesus could feed this second multitude after the miracle of feeding the first multitude (Mark 8:4)?
The first clue is where the miracles happened: the miracle of feeding the 5,000 happened not long after or too far from Jesus’ return to Nazareth. It was in Judea, among Jews. But this second miraculous feeding of a multitude happened in the region of the Decapolis (Mark 7:31). This is notable because it is one of the few regions Jesus ministered in where the majority of the population was Gentiles—foreign peoples who did not know or worship the God of Israel. This accounts for the disciples doubt. Miracles for their fellow Jews were expected, but miracles for these unclean Gentiles? That was certainly unexpected. Especially when you consider that Jesus was unable to perform miracles among unbelieving Jews (as had been the case in Nazareth—Mark 6:1-6).
The second clue is how the miracle ended: when Jesus fed the 5,000, He told the disciples to pick up all of the food that was left over and they collected 12 baskets full (Mark 6:43)—one basket for each unbelieving disciple. When Jesus fed the 4,000, He also told the disciples to pick up all of the food that was left over and they collected 7 baskets full (Mark 8:8). Jesus had also begun the miracle with 7 loaves.
What is the significance of 7? Well God created the world in 6 days, and rested on the 7th, blessing and sanctifying it and setting it apart as holy (Genesis 2:1-3). So the number 7 symbolizes completion and perfection. Jesus miracle of feeding the 5,000 was a sign that the kingdom of heaven He was ushering in would end the effects of the curse of sin. For example, while men had to work and sweat to have enough to eat under the reign of sin (Genesis 3:19), under the reign of Jesus food would be plentiful and abundant for all. But this first miracle had only been among the Jews. It took another similar miracle, sending another similar sign to the Gentiles, for Jesus to make an important point. His work would not be finished until this good news, this Gospel, was shared with all people, Jew and Gentile alike. But Jesus found this message was not understood by the disciples right away.
Mark 8:18-21 – 18) “Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? 19) 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.” 20) “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” 21) And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”
Having spent so long being indoctrinated to believe that salvation was only for them (and the rare few who overtly joined them) it would take the disciples a long time to understand that what Jesus was doing was for all mankind. In fact, it wouldn’t be until after Jesus death and resurrection that Peter was confronted with a dream from God that forced Him to come to grips with this truth.
Acts 10:34-35 – 34) So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35) but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.
Do we understand this? Or do we sometimes act as though Jesus is coming back for us (who are in the church, or who were born in the right country, or who are in the right class, etc.) and not for… Those people? Know that salvation is for all who receive it with gladness, in spirit and in truth (Hebrews 1:9; John 4:23-24) and will be denied to those who refuse to see and hear that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is for everyone.
Mark 16:14-16 – 15) And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. 16) Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”