Scripture Readings for February 13, 2017
In order to get the most from today’s Gospel I think we have to look at the Scripture passages that come immediately before and after the section we read this morning. The questioning by the Pharisees is preceded by the multiplication of the loaves and the feeding of 4,000 people with 7 loaves of bread and then followed by a conversation in which his disciples misunderstand his comments about the destructive power of hidden agendas.
We must also remember that the Gospels were not written to be a history of Jesus’ life but rather as a tool for explaining to people what faith in Jesus was about. Certainly the events in the Gospels have an historical basis but the evangelists, the writers of the Gospels, were well, evangelizing, trying to spread the message. So let’s look at this part of Mark’s gospel just as a first time reader might.
You’ve just read that 4,000 people were fed on seven loaves of bread and a few fish and the leftovers filled seven baskets. Then the very next thing that happens is a group of Pharisees asks Jesus for a sign from heaven as proof that his message is from God. Wouldn’t you think, you’d just read about the best sign of heavenly generosity you could think of? But what is really puzzling is Jesus’ answer, “no sign will be given to this generation.” Isn’t this the same guy who just fed those 4,000 and has been curing and healing people all over the countryside?
I think the key to this question is that Jesus “sighed from the depth of his spirit.” The story is an example of how people cannot see what is right in front of them. In this case, Mark is talking about how we recognize God’s presence.
Jesus’ sigh signals his frustration with people’s tendency to rely on some outside event to prove for them it is OK to believe. Jesus reply is an acknowledgement that there never is proof certain for someone who can’t hear and see for themselves. The person who requires outside proof is someone who isn’t listening to his or her own heart, his or her own experience. In that case there is no way to prove faith. When it comes to recognizing God’s presence in our lives we are the only one who can see it for ourselves.
This point is reinforced by what follows the Pharisees questioning. The disciples and Jesus go across the lake and Jesus warns them about the destructive influence of the Pharisees. He refers to their influence as yeast in the bread and the Apostles misinterpret what he says, thinking they forgot to bring enough bread for the journey. Jesus then questions their ability to understand his mission. He asks, “Do you not yet understand or comprehend? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes and not see, ears and not hear?”
This is exactly what Jesus found so frustrating with the Pharisees. You can feed 4,000 people and your own disciples can’t seem to see the message of God’s generous providence to all of us.
For me the core of today’s Gospel is Jesus’ own sadness that so many people couldn’t recognize the gift that was in the middle of their lives. Isn’t that exactly one of the issues that still plague us? Do we recognize God’s love present in our midst and then live accordingly?
How do we learn to see what God is trying to do and hear what God is trying to say in our lives? Based on today’s Gospel, that has been an issue from the very beginning of Jesus mission among us. So let’s remember the key lesson here. Don’t look outside yourself for some absolute answer or proof that will clear everything up. That’s exactly what won’t happen. Instead the only place to look for answers is within us and our everyday experience, our feelings. Like the sigh of Jesus from the depth of his spirit, it tells us so much about who we really are.