Sunday I continued my series of sermons on Mark’s gospel. My text for the sermon (“Do You Still Not Understand?“) was Mark 8:14-21, a text which serves, at least in part, to wrap up the first part of Mark’s gospel. As I reflected on the text’s account of the interaction between Jesus and his disciples, I found helpful some reflections on this text in Walter Brueggemann’s outstanding little book Journey to the Common Good. While I didn’t speak directly about the scarcity/abundance contrast Brueggemann astutely observes in this text, Brueggemann’s reflections on Jesus’s style of teaching in this interaction with the disciples shaped the way I portrayed the interaction in my sermon.
After these two feedings, Jesus, the master teacher, invites his disciples to reflect on what they had seen. They are in a boat together. They have forgotten the bread, not remembering that Jesus is in the abundance business. Jesus asks the disciples hard question to which they make no response…. He wants them to reflect on his work of abundance. But they avoided eye contact and make no response. The disciples are beyond their interpretive capacity, because they do not know what to make of the new abundance caused by Jesus.
Like a good teacher, Jesus retreats to more concrete operational questions:
- How many baskets of bread were left over in chapter 6 when I fed five thousand?
- They are eager with an answer: “Twelve.”
- How many baskets of bread were left over in chapter 8 when I fed four thousand?
- They are eager with an answer: “Seven!”
The disciples are very good at concrete operational question. They know the data, but they have no sense of its signficance. The narrative concludes with one of Jesus’ saddest verdicts:
Do you not yet understand?
Do you not understand that the ideology of scarcity has been broken, overwhelmed by the divine gift of abundance? (33-34)
As I continue to chew on these wise words of Brueggemann, I find myself wondering if perhaps we’ve spent a lot of time in church helping people become “very good at concrete operational questions,” who “know the data, but . . . have no sense of its significance.” What would it take for the church to help people have a sense of the data’s significance?