Mark 8:11

Here the Pharisees came out, and began to argue with Jesus, asking him for some sign from the heavens, to test him.

every jot and tittle needs defending
there is no place however unknown
outside constant vigilance
for contagion can start anywhere

enter stage left prodigal partyers
from stage right decibel enforcers
no venue is to small
for ubiquitous Purell®

in its over use
stronger impurities are bred
short-term holy protection
requires hair-trigger reactions

such hyper-alertness to boundaries
insists on fragile nuclear options
involving heavenly authority
expected to be tempted to death

Isn’t this a test we have of everyone we meet—What sign of “heaven” do you bring? Those who make our heart go pitter-pat or our mind perk up and pay attention are the folks we ask particularly about that which is beyond us.

This σημεῖον (sēmeion, sign, meaningful character of an event or object) has come down to us more familiarly as semantics or semiology.

The widest view of this approach to meaning is described by Umberto Eco—“semiotics is concerned with everything that can be taken as a sign”. Those not acquainted with semiotics might start with the freebie, Semiotics for Beginners by Daniel Chandler [].

To be in the presence of a different perspective is a blessing. It is not so much a temptation to leave where you are as to give opportunity to test to see if we can hold steady without causing moral injury to ourselves or another by doing so. This brings testing to even a looked-forward-to opportunity. In such a test we reveal to ourselves and others whatever integrity between word and deed we still hold. There is no end to testing and so learning to appreciate it is of paramount importance. When we grow weary of a test, we have grown weary of wrestling meaning from signs all around.

It is not outrageous to ask for another way to see what has been before us so strongly that we have flattened its small-t truth into big-T Truth based on too small a sample. If you are claiming, demonstrating, or having power attributed to you, those who are challenged by such literally need to either disappear you or bring a test.

It is better to be tested than disappeared. Now both can grow.

Mark 8:10

Immediately afterward, getting into the boat with his disciples, Jesus went to the district of Dalmanutha.

and away we go
to a place once known
but lost o’er time

we can almost hear
4,000 echoes still asking
who was that masked man

in its anonymous state
we might imagine all places
filled with post-feast leftovers

enough for seven sea crossings
bringing all shores together
mingling solids liquids and gases

out of excess seed plantings
continue 3 days to 33 years
night dreams to lived change

Destination: unknown.

Not only is it unknown, in and of itself, there is also no way to connect it with Matthew’s report of a feeding 4,000 and Jesus’ subsequent journey to Magadon or Magdala or Magdalon.

LaVerdiere211, raises the possibility of Dalmanutha being “a popular corruption of Tiberiadaamathous, a combination of Tiberias, the Roman city built as the capital of Galilee, and Am(m)a thous, the ancient town that was replaced by Tiberias.”

In the face of what is not known, what is known is that lives, hearts and minds will continue to be challenged/expanded and there will be an openness to those on the edge. Rhoads, in Anderson/173, puts it well, “The narrative explicitly rejects guarding boundaries by excluding people.”

What is harder to fathom in this rushed story of the Jeopardy of Jesus, an ancestor of the perils of Paul/Pauline, is why there is not a parallel danger on the sea. Surely there is still another revelation of Jesus that could have been brought into the story line to heighten the tension after another wonder-full recounting of feeding 4,000 with seven loaves and a few “little” fishes that mimic the “little” dogs who gather crumbs.

As it stands we have to await what danger is to be found on another shore rather than at sea.

This transition passage can give us pause to consider our own journey and where we are with the ancient Irish song, “I know where I’m going and I know who’s going with me” [https://]. May you be steady as you go into every good wilderness and return retreat-ready for what is next.

Mark 8:9

There were about four thousand people. Then Jesus dismissed them.

Nachmanides knows his sevens
scattered through a natural world
connected by creation days
basic food groups transform to energy
food brings soul to body
we are filled lucky

whether four or four thousand
we are scattered by four winds
to the four corners of home
with calm persistence
we speak within our experience
tempered by a big dose of mercy

with a tattooed Kabbalist number
with no attributed authority
we are on a road again
estranged from unity’s one
tempted by 6-6-5 6-6-6 6-6-7
we are at home in a wilderness

Almost every translation has Jesus sending the people away, dismissing them.

There is an old translation from Wycliffe that reads: “And they that ate, were as four thousand of men; and he let them go [and he left them].”

There is a new translation by Swanson: “They were about four thousand. He left them.”

This little choice comes from the phrase ἀπολύω αὐτός (apolyō, released, set at liberty; autos, himself or he).

In some sense it doesn’t make too much difference whether the action is to return folks to their own recognizance or to claim the liberty to move on. Either way leads to another abrupt transition to a boat on the sea.

We are also faced with a question of transition that translators handle differently. Does 9b conclude the feeding story or does it make a nice fit with his entering a boat that summarily leaves?

In the previous feeding episode, Jesus “made” the Twelve get into the boat and go ahead while he dismissed the crowd and went off alone to pray. Our tendency is to look for consistency by setting up a pattern that we force everything else to fit into. It can be asked whether two outliers are simply wrong or their take helps us slow down to reflect on the difference and how that shows up in our own life; how we make transitions.

One choice is whether or not it is necessary to say “Goodbye” to a current situation before being able to say “Hello” to a next opportunity. Can we move ahead without a resolution of an event?

Mark 8:8

The people had sufficient to eat, and they picked up seven baskets full of the broken pieces that were left.

seven times seven or seventy
pulls forgiveness into view
multiplies mercy for thousands
sets a stage for journeying

we take
we chew
we digest
we live

seven loaves of bread
augmented by seven fish
dance a blessing way
into baskets of friendship starter

we live
we chew
we digest
we give

How would the reader’s experience be changed if, instead of reading about “leftovers”, what was collected was περίσσευμα (perisseuma) or “that which abounds”, “which is in excess”.

A super-abundance has a different weight to it than a leftover.

Similarly, eating until “full” brings images of Thanksgiving excess were belts are loosened and a nap is in the offing. Here again, an option is available to have the crowd eat (be healed) until they were “satisfied”.

More can always be stuffed in. Today we call it over-consumption. This is different than having eaten enough.

Admittedly this is a retrojection into the story as there weren’t factory farms supplying international transportation of foodstuff to a grocery near you. Admittedly, also, are the multitudes of “food deserts” among the poor of today, like the poor of yester-century, that would still appreciate a moment of fullness over an experience of never having been satisfied.

Perhaps we are to only appreciate that the miracle of building community through feasts is repeatable. If these feeding stories can be Mark’s version of the prayer Jesus taught the Twelve, might they also serve as a tangible model of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount and Luke’s Sermon on the Plain? To be able to bless G*D for food or add a blessing to already blessed food, is to have a foretaste of the rest of the beatitudes or blessings.

A thought experiment: Consider that the bottom line of life is that of being cared for, a beloved, one swimming in abundance. After every gain or loss, every curing or healing or sickness or death, there is a settling of accounts weighted toward mercy. Would you rejoice to carry many baskets of abundance to scatter as you may?

Mark 8:7

They had also a few small fish; and, after he had said the blessing, he told the disciples to serve out these as well.

the hidden will show
not easily but will

greed can hold accusations
of theft at bay for generations

eventually traces and causes
are noted understood reordered

in a small pond seven small fish
surface to make a difference

such details tell a story
blessing flows chastisement slows

a blessing begun anywhere
warms reluctant generosity

It is never easy to determine an intent of an author. There are times even they aren’t aware of what they are doing. The separation of fish from bread in this telling of a feeding story raises a question of what that may be about.

The first feeding story began with bread and fish; this story has the “little” fish as an afterthought; the last meal will have no fish and be the model for Eucharists or Communions to come with their bread and wine.

The question is whether Mark is using the belated appearance of fish to signal a change that is going on in the practice of the early church as it segues from its Jewish roots to a Gentile orientation or if it is just a stylistic happenstance.

The source of this question comes from Phillips in Levine167

Crossan has suggested [Historical Jesus, pp. 367, 398-404] that, before eucharists of bread and wine developed in Hellenistic house-churches, there has been outdoor meals of bread and fish shared among peasants, going back before Calvary. Fish are fine for Aramaic-speaking peasants, but they cannot be used in Greek sacrifices.

The question regarding Mark’s understanding of the shift of the ingredients of these formal, Jesus-led, meals is not something that can ever have a definitive response. What can be approached is a reader’s attentiveness to the sweep of the story they are encountering and their willingness to know that their reading is also a rewriting of what they have read according to the matrix of their experience base which affects the range of options available to them.

A misplaced fish was a strange place to encounter linguistic theory. May it help us not only fish for people, but for ourselves.

Mark 8:6

Jesus told the crowd to sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves, and, after saying the thanksgiving, broke them, and gave them to his disciples to serve out; and they served them out to the crowd.

first step in change
process with what is available
there is no waiting
for a second course
third degree
apropos moment

sit where there is grass
stand in sand
lean on a fence
jaw palaver
get to the heart of the matter
each face is ours

with a Hammarskjöldian yes
and subsequent thanks
we feast between
selves and times
hopes and fears
toward larger homes

This crowd of Gentiles has been following Jesus for a couple of days through wilderness territory as he is wending his way back to his homeland. A time of parting has come.

Hospitality has a welcoming component with washing of feet and feeding a hungry traveler. It also has a middle time of mutual blessing. As a parting is about to take place there is a sense that those about to leave should be sent on their way full of needed resources until they can make it to their next stop.

Just before leaving his tour of Gentile territory and returning fortified for deeper and deeper wilderness experiences, Jesus again feeds a multitude.

Of import here is the feeding, not the mechanism of the feeding. There could be a whole feast or, as here, bread, but it doesn’t make any difference if it is a feast or a sharing of a last crumb that has fallen beneath the table. Hospitality is what is done in the most inhospitable of situations. Anyone who has experienced the generous hospitality of the poor or those in a non-capitalist culture knows this act of kindness. In this sense a eucharistēsas is present in every act of partnership, sharing lives and food, and a parting of people still not on the same page but connected deeper than any sign of uniformity can offer.

Whether a formal or informal parting that carries some sense of finality or a middle space between Goodbye and Hello—Sayonara, Namaste, Au Revoir, Shalem/Shalom, Adios or Blessed Be—we are at a tender moment that requires a heightened expression of a yearning for wholeness within one another that goes far beyond a quiet Peace.

Mark 8:5

“How many loaves have you?” he asked. “Seven,” they answered.

as a tempted beloved says
I hate it when my word
demands my flesh

yes indeedy
that nasty reality
is always popping up

if only we could name
what we don’t have
we could happily snack in the corner

so here’s our final answer
seven loaves
what’s that do among so many

sotto voce to each other
ixnay onyay ethay ishfay
ohyay andyay ethay orbetsay

half-a-truth half-a-truth onward
we’re not new at this rodeo
old soldiers never volunteer

There is some learning that is going on. This is hopeful for ourselves as well as for the disciples. In 6:38 the disciples had to go to find out they had 5 fish and 2 loaves. Here they know their resources—seven loaves.

The question of what resources we have for ourselves and others will keep showing up whether we read Mark as “gospel truth” or follow a “spiritual but not religious” way of being in the world. Are we a keeper of others as well as ourself?

Those who remember the first feeding story may wonder what happened to the fish? They will show up as an afterthought in verse 7. Depending on how you would prefer to reconstruct the storyline regarding the relationship between bread and fish, verses 6 and 7 might well be swapped.

LaVerdiere210 indicates:

The fish have been relegated to the perimeter of the story. In this, we note the influence of liturgical practice. The tradition in 8:1–9 has been shaped in part by a liturgical setting in which fish were no longer part of the breaking of the bread. This influence, absent from tradition represented by 6:34–44, very likely occurred prior to Mark’s Gospel.

This reminds us of the difficulty of wrestling with the text of any scriptural heritage wherein the etiology of the significance of its details are lost in the murky waters of another time and culture. Is the change in this fishing story significant or just stylistic?

Mark 8:4

“Where will it be possible,” his disciples answered, “to get sufficient bread for these people in this lonely place?”

what again
there’s nowhere to go
nothing to go with
besides they’re ingrates

they’re never satisfied
rip-off artists
future welfare queens
additionally not tithers

how can we run a PR campaign
if we’re always giving away
our profit on banquets
this is not sustainable

The response of the disciples is also the question we raise about our own lives when we run into a test that leads to wilderness living for a longer or shorter time. While seeking a deeper retreat, we do have concerns about how we will have enough “food” to satisfy at least our basic survival needs.

This question of the disciples will return to haunt as Jesus ritualizes the end of his physical presence with a meal that leaves them befuddled with blood and body images they don’t know how to deal with. Only later will they come to grips with living with a satisfied mind without Jesus’ physical presence.

This existential question is in contrast to Mark’s readers who view how the disciples responded and see it as a repetition of feeding 5,000. Mark’s genius lets us see what the disciples can’t quite grasp on their own.

Fowler in Anderson/69, supposes,

…the meaning of these stories lies less in ancient history and more in how they strike the reader who must encounter them now in the act of reading? As you might anticipate, the reader-response critic will ask, “What happens when the reader reads seemingly repetitious episodes?” And again the reader-response critic will want to consider every instance on its own terms because the rhetorical possibilities of repetition (as with any storytelling strategy) are endless. By repetition, the reader’s insight into the narrative can be built up or solidified; repetition can also weary us, confuse us, or make us suspicious. Repetition giveth and repetition taketh away. It is always wise to consider each moment of reading on its own merits.

Again, this repetition gives opportunity for us to consider our own repetitive response to our experiences to see if we are learning anything. How long have we held on to our narrative of our life and the world around? Will we notice a next opportunity for hospitality?

Mark 8:3

and if I send them away to their homes hungry, they will break down on the way; and some of them have come a long distance.”

heading home changed
takes extra stamina
let’s feast

reserves depleted
to slide through new doors
let’s feast

challenges substantial
temptations grow weed fast
let’s feast

parting wonder stressed
is reason enough
let’s feast

How shall we renew our strength? Walk and not faint? (Isaiah 40:31)

Daily bread, literal and metaphoric!

It has been a three-day workshop in healing. We came for our own and rejoiced in all the other healings as if they were our own.

Even so, it has been three days.

Matthew says directly what Mark here suggests: “I do not want to send them away” (Matthew 15:32)

A reference to Psalm 107:4f is also in order at this point: “Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to an inhabited town; hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them.”

Waetjen138­–139 raises some questions about the two feedings.

Why does Jesus wait three days in order to provide a meal for these enthusiastic and devoted gentiles? Earlier he had fed the Jewish multitudes on the very day they had joined him in the wilderness.

He goes on to speculate, as do most commentators, that there is a presaging of being resurrected after 3 days. This perspective is based on the number of days and a shift in language from eulogēsen (blessing in an Israelite crowd) to eucharistēsas (thanksgiving in a Gentile crowd).

In this feeding, after three days of accompanying Jesus without food, the gentiles will experience a foretaste of the eschatological reality of Easter. They will be renewed by the bread and the fish for their continuation “on the way.”

It is far simpler to remember Jesus’ sense of being a shepherd in the first feeding and to add to that the slowness with which he responded with a healing for the daughter of Justa, the Syrophoenician woman. Mark’s Jesus may still be working out the widening of a circle to include non-Israelites. In either case, feeding does happen.

Mark 8:2

“My heart is moved at the sight of all these people, for they have already been with me three days and they have nothing to eat;

culpa mea
I am penitent
baptized recognized
wilderness bound
I hunger for partnership
crowd and creation
these hunger with me
partners and not yet partners

we are all
three days dead
hunger pains nearly gone
there has been enough
for this emptying
practice servanting
we are real
journeys need provisions

By many measures, including self-deluded ones, America is the richest nation and yet at least half of its households are one paycheck away from bankruptcy. One emergency room visit, one extra expense, one cut in pay will show the fragility of its economy. Additionally there is credit card debt that can’t be met if ever called due.

This is a modern equivalent to having spent 3 days away from one’s usual supply lines—increasing hunger and agitation.

In such cases we’ll even hook up with a false messiah promising to always take care of us and make us great again. The cost? The Romans, the Mexicans, the Muslims, and the LGBTQ community will be done away with; Women and Blacks will be put in their place. Enlargement by exclusion has forever failed and will again, but it has a special place in an Apple Picker’s heart that will find knowledge through gluttony or any other entitlement.

Every one, including one claimed by many thousands of years later to be a True Messiah, can recognize a growing tension among those whose survival is growing more tenuous, day by day and year by year. Compassion and mercy are the only long-term tools available to move us toward a continuous Jubilee restoration.

Mark does not have a scene where Jesus gives a model prayer, but Wright101 notes that these feeding episodes are that prayer embodied. Matthew and Luke pray a day of “presence”, of daily bread, will come. Mark demonstrates that it is here.

The suffering of the crowd will find themselves supported, understood in the midst of their hunger. This is prelude to another irony when the feeder will be denied pardon from suffering and the same or another crowd will crowd around to watch the spectacle of suffering unto death. They will go from hands out for more to thumbs down.