Among Anxious Friends Who Fail

A translation and comment on Mark 8:14–21:

They forgot to bring bread. Except for one loaf, they didn’t have any bread with them in the boat.

Jesus began to warn them, “Be careful. Watch out for the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”

They began to talk with one another about how they didn’t have any bread.

When Jesus realized this, he said to them, “Why are you talking about how you don’t have any bread? Do you not yet understand? Don’t you get it? Do your hearts not work? You have eyes, but do they not see? You have ears, but do they not hear? Don’t you remember? When I broke the five loaves into five thousand, how many baskets full of left-overs did you pick up?

“Twelve.”

“When the seven loaves became four thousand, how many baskets full of left-overs did you pick up?”

“Seven.”

“Do you not yet get it?”

They could not hear what Jesus was saying because their minds were swirling with anxiety. They failed to bring bread. Jesus was speaking to them, but they had messed up in an everyday sort of way. The problems of the day caused them to hear Jesus’ words in a way that ratcheted up their anxiety instead of turning it down. Quite a normal, human experience.

Jesus realized what was happening and addressed them with a series of questions. The way you hear this series of questions depends on how you personally relate to Jesus. Is he understanding and sympathetic? Or does he point out your faults and walk away? When verse 17 says Jesus became aware of their mistakes, at that moment in the story you assume something about Jesus. His awareness is accompanied by either sympathy or disgust. In the previous paragraph, Jesus was said to inwardly groan at the Pharisees’ unbelief. Is that the way he relates to his friends?

All Jesus’ questions are intended to communicate that when you are with him, you will be taken care of. You are safe. He will provide even when you mess up. I don’t think he could communicate this if his tone were filled with scorn.

Jesus wanted to talk about the kingdom, his mission and their hearts. They were blinded by the problems of daily life, in this case food. They didn’t need to be told that they are stupid. They needed to be told they are taken care of, and that’s exactly what Jesus said. We are free to pursue the “impractical” because we are worth much more than sparrows.