For the full text of Mark 8, click here.
The chapter begins by revisiting the story of Jesus feeding another four thousand people with seven loaves of bread and “a few” fish with tons of leftovers from Matthew 15. The name of the place they go to next is different in the two accounts but when I looked it up, these are two different names for the same place. I found a few sites that talk about it, all of which have the same information as this Wikipedia site on the subject. The supposition is that either one is just a small town or that it neither or both don’t exist at all and it’s some sort of typo meant to be Magdala which was a bigger town nearby. Regardless, Jesus and company move on after this miracle in a boat.
Then the Pharisees demand and sign and Jesus refuses. He’s annoyed that people want signs but specifically calls it out that this generation will not receive a sign. In the Matthew account, which comes in chapter 16, Jesus says that the only sign will be “the sign of Jonah” which has been interpreted as Jesus being seen three days after he was supposed to be dead since Jonah was in the whale three days. Mark leaves this part out and just says that this generation will get no sign, and then that Jesus got in a boat and went back across to the other side.
The story about the Pharisees and the leaven of bread is a little confusing for me. I mean, I understand the point that the warning may not be so much about the leaven of the bread itself, but why not? I mean, they were worried about the bread, clearly not talking directly to Jesus about it and He comes in and reminds then that no matter how little they’ve had or how many people there were to feed, there were plenty of leftovers. In fact, a part of the point seems to be that the leftovers dwarfed the amount they even started with.
But they were still worried about it and Jesus asks them why they don’t get it still. To me, a big part of that is the idea that Jesus creates abundance wherever He is and coupled with other stories, that there is nothing at all to worry about while with Him except taking care of your faith and adherence to the Law in it’s spirit rather than the Law as a means to oppress others. That would have been my impression of the situation without the little addition that comes in the Matthew account that:
12Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.Matthew 16:12
At the same time, I do get the idea that it’s the teaching we receive that allows us to rise to the occasion on our beliefs. The Pharisees were pretty big influencers and probably led a lot of people down then wrong road well before everything went down with Jesus. I’m just not so sure that’s the problem there because these are people who are closely following Jesus and not the Pharisees or their teachings. They weren’t even talking about that. Again, this account doesn’t have that little tidbit added to it, which makes more sense to me anyway.
Then there’s a story of Jesus healing a blind man. What strikes me about this one is that it took two efforts. I don’t know what the spitting was supposed to be about but first Jesus spit on his eyes and then He put His hands over them. The first time the man could see a little but not well. He could only see vague figures, saying that the people walking around looked like trees. On the second effort, Jesus put His hands over the man’s eyes and then he could see well. He was directed not to go back into the town for some reason but to go home straight away. This could be for many reasons, some as simple as it’s better to show the people you live with first. There’s no reason given, but that’s what I would go with.
The next story is another one that is written slightly different from the Matthew account, but different enough that it’s a little strange. In the Matthew account that we’ve seen before, Jesus asks who people think “the Son of Man” is but here He asks who people think He is.
“Who do people say that I am?”Mark 8:27
The disciples answer the same in both sections. They tell Him who everyone says the “Christ” or “Son of Man” is and not who everyone thinks Jesus is. He reiterates the question and asks who they think He is rather than wanting to be told who everyone else says He is. This is when Peter either first realizes or just first says out loud that Jesus is the Christ. In this account, Jesus goes on to tell them about His impending death and resurrection rather than first telling Peter that He will be the rock.
After such a nice interaction over being the Christ, Peter messes it up by “rebuking” Jesus about what He just foretold. Here it’s just “rebuke” but in the Matthew account there’s dialogue. Either way, Peter is not good with what Jesus just told them and expresses this, which Jesus yells at him for in return. This is one of those places where it feels like Jesus may not have always dealt perfectly with His impending doom and not only wanted to give His people a heads up but was dealing with it Himself. It’s the way that He yells at Peter that makes think this because it’s like He’s being tempted to turn from the path that He’s supposed to be on because of Peter.
Then again, it’s also clear that the disciples don’t get everything about why Jesus is there. They know enough to follow Him but not enough to realize that this path, no matter how much they might want to spare Him of it, is what had to happen. All they could do would be to walk beside Him. But He also knows that these people will abandon Him during this time and be disgusted by the way that Peter says it wouldn’t happen.
Jesus tells them that they will have to take up a cross next to Him and that people will get in what they’ve done to others in return.
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35For whoever would save his lifed will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”Mark 8:34-38
This is one of those places that confuse the importance of what you do and what you believe. I have a hard time with one or the other being more important. I think it’s the combination. Physically following the Laws so that you look good and have a certain status among your peers is not rewarded. That much is clear from the way Jesus continuously gets on the Pharisees. They know the letter of the Law but not the spirit. They don’t care about other people, just their own status. Following the Law because you want to live the way God commanded and follow Jesus seems like an entirely different thing to me, especially in light of passages like this.