Mark 8:21

“Don’t you understand now?” he repeated. 


not understanding
is no block
for continuing

an on-ongoing understanding
of not understanding
is a standard operating situation

and SOP is not an SOS
no emergency protocol
need be engaged

all the response needed
is a simple yep
still connecting

turn down the sensitivity
to innate failure
accept the journey to date


With this question, LaVerdiere220 ends volume one of his two volume commentary on Mark. All the teachings and healings to this point are but an introduction to the crux or consequence of having begun a gospel of good news within a divided religious tradition occupied for what seems like the umpteenth time—“To understand, the disciples have to follow him on the way to Jerusalem, to his passion and resurrection.”

A number of commentators see this as a place where Mark changes images from the “sea” to “the way”.

Do note that this question remains unanswered here. There is not even the inkling of a response. Elizabeth Struthers Malbon, in her chapter on Narrative Criticism in Anderson44, writes: “The sea scene ends [with this question]. No character answers this question. It is forwarded to the implied reader….” We will find this same inconclusiveness when Mark finally ends his beginning of good news with silence.

For a moment it would be helpful to intentionally take your role as an “implied reader” and spend some time with this question in regard to your own life. This is an opportunity to take stock of what you do and do not understand about your life at this point, taking particular notice of what glimpse you have of that mysterious realm of what you do not understand and where you have relied on trust, habit, and ritual to comfort yourself in the midst of afflictions and addictions.

It would be helpful to learn a bit more about an Ignatian Examen. In particular: recall the leftovers of a presence of abundance you have picked up along the way; be thankful for these blessings; see how they have affected your behavior today; see where changed living is needed; and choose a hopeful recommitment to generosity.

Mark 8:20

“And when the seven for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of broken pieces did you pick up?” “Seven,” they said.


whether gathering more
than what was
or simply conserving
what is
details pull us together

at sixes and sevens
hungry two eight four
practically perfect ones or tens
divine three and three times three
it is five digits shape our work

never out of the woods
we have needed resources
in every scattered fragment
a map of the forest resides
one loaf to feed them all


With a second question about a second feeding we might begin to wonder if Jesus is not getting at something other than the crowds that were fed— the role the Twelve had in finding the bread and fish, or the sacramental form of the feedings.

Jesus has been asking about the leftovers that the Twelve had experienced. What was left over in their lives after these experiences and how did that connect with this and every moment since?

Carrington170 suggests the leftovers can be connected with Creation and when we forget Creation, “God…is often the forgotten factor. He was with them in the boat, even when they had only one loaf. They ought not to have been worrying about bread.”

LaVerdiere220 continues Myers concern of an ethic of mutual care by connecting the seven baskets of leftovers with a story of enacted unity or trust in G*D—the feeding of Greek widows in Acts 6:1–7. This liberationist remembrance places the oppressed at the center of the resolution of their oppression. Gentiles are placed at the core of decisions about the feeding of all the widows. This will also be seen in Paul’s insistence on the inherent value in non-Jewish lives (Galatians 3:28). [Note, seven Greek men were put in charge of distributing food to all widows, not the Greek widows themselves!]

Whether seen through trusting eyes able to see the G*D and the abundance of life or Neighb*r and the ethics of partnership, we only need to see the leftovers to hear echoes of John’s recollection of Jesus saying, “Do you believe because you see me? Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe/trust.” (John 20:29)

Mark 8:19

when I broke up the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets of broken pieces you picked up?” “Twelve,” they said. 


remembering what Jesus did
is old hat to us
we can reel it off
years of stories have settled
until we know
every little life episode
is really about Jesus

such remembrances
finally add up to being storyless
it turns out to be a dream
unmoored in effect
awaiting a next Jesus deed
missing our picking-up
we fail to carry on

having left left-overs
out of our equation
we have broken a trail
to new fishing grounds
and don’t know where
to pick it up again
without a big hint

Israel is dispersed
scattered inside and out
occupied through and through
on a scale of 1-10
it’s 12 sheets to the wind
remember forgotten bread
it is your bait


We all have information stored away within us that would be helpful if only we could access it when it would be helpful.

Unspoken is a remembrance of what followed that feeding—a storm. As a water-walking Jesus entered their boat, Mark notes the Twelve didn’t understand about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.

Such is still the case. It was as if a storm took any glimmer of insight away from them and they were simply left in awe. Awe is not a good place to try to figure things out.

This is the same distraction that comes with leavening (attending to short-term advertising glitz rather than long-term sustenance) and remains in attendance when we set fire to basic life needs, whether bread or news.

Myers90, sees in this verse the hardening of Christianity’s heart that formally began in 313 C.E. when “the church began to shift from the bottom to the top, from the margins to the center, from those who had no power to those in power”. The result: “once the dynamic core of the gospel message, the realm of God, was replaced by a different message, the defense of the status quo.” In a moment of testing we chose the “politics of exclusion and domination” and lost a “hermeneutic of suspicion … about the way in which our own self-interest might shape our reading of text or context.”

Mark 8:18

Though you have eyes, do you not see? And though you have ears, do you not hear? Don’t you remember,


question piles on question
each trampling the previous
such a cacophony of questions
there is no time or space
to open the smallest response

question by question
we grow smaller to smallest
we don’t even remember
the first question
much less it antecedent

question added to question
measures growing anger
by now surely
Fishing 101 would be complete
yet here we are

breath added to questions
finally begins to soothe
and nuclear questions
give way to basics
twelve seven one


The last question is a pivot. Remembrance can stand on its own and demand its own verse.

On one hand it completes the list of questions by bringing us back to the question of the recent feeding in the wilderness, rather than getting hung up on the jump to a leavening application.

On the other hand it is a lead-in statement for the next verses that cast back to the feeding of 4,000 to see if the Twelve can get back on track with their analysis of an availability of abundance.

Question after question has already been asked. Finally it comes down to a question of volition. Will we apply ourselves to real world experience or recast everything to our own easiest sorting out of meaning?

To remember (palin) is to return to a previous time that it might be reconnected with this present moment. At question is how far back we can or need go. We can just check out the most recent antecedent or even track back as far back as Mark’s first verse, “the beginning of good news…”.

Does “good news” begin with remembering Isaiah and Malachi (1:2–3) or Baptizer John (1:4–9) or a water dove (1:10–11)? If it is particularly about feeding, what about 1:12–13 that takes place in a wilderness with attending (feeding?) angels. This good news is of an availability of more than might be expected, of such an enoughness that there are baskets of leftovers to be picked up.

Remembering recharges previous experiences that they might inform our present time and open us for a variant that will again surprise us into graced and graceful living beyond mere expectation.

Mark 8:17

and, noticing this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you talking about your being short of bread? Don’t you yet see or understand? Are your minds still so slow or comprehension?


resistance is too mild a word
for our avoidance of connection
were we interested in changed hearts
we’d attend to poetics
instead of first definitions

there is more to bread than yeast
G*D is more than astonishment
intended goals keep shifting
self-measurements are ambiguous
understanding lags behind literalism

let’s review
what’s G*D up to
still a bit vague
things have been too fast
for us to read our notes


One of the difficulties of translating is an unrecognized bias brought to the task. The word γνούς (gnous, knowing) is better translated as “becoming aware”. In church speak it is all too easy to make Jesus into an all-knowing and all-wise mini-god who has foreknowledge of everyone and everything.

It helps to remember the setting—a boat at sea. The size craft to transport these thirteen (a number picked out but unreliable at this distance) would probably allow an overhearing of conversations, even if a small group were consciously trying to quietly work something out. We might even wonder where on this boat they could have gone to hold their conversation apart from Jesus.

And so, “As Jesus became aware of the tangent the Twelve were taking, he brought them back to awareness.”

The Greek puts it simply, why do you not yet νοέω (noeō, perceive) and συνίημι (suniēmi, understand). These are valuable tools we often set aside in the heat of communal conversation to arrive at a too-easy resolution of whatever question is at hand.

Somehow we cease defining or clarifying the data or question on which we are going to attempt to make a judgment. We massage and massage until we have reduced a presenting issue into our current, and thus limited, categories of meaning. In so doing we pre-ordain the outcome will be one we already know and can safely sidestep its implication of change in our behavior.

In many ways the hardening of our heart is a direct result of having hardened our head.

Mark 8:16

They began talking to one another about their being short of bread;


we get taken to task
when we have bread
along with reluctance
to share

we get taken to task
when we have no bread
along with fantasy desires
to move up

there is no not taken to task
while we think we’re better
than flighty birds
whispering our Jesus password

hesitant sharing
reveled in progress
special privilege
avoided responsibility

so we chatter to one another
having repeated an Eden model
excusing our loss of partnership
mistaking bread for character


When the master speaks, no matter how cryptically or even wrongly, disciples presume there is something deeper in the speaking than they can catch on first hearing. So an after-hours discussion is held.

It is easy to remember the triangular discussion in Eden between Snake, Adam, and Eve. In the discussion, little errors creep in as the statement under discussion bobs and weaves through one memory system and then another until, like the party-game Telephone, we are talking about something else and making decisions on the basis of our discussion rather than its stimulus.

The focus becomes what the Twelve had forgotten (bread) rather than an affirmation of what is still present (bread). How like me. How about you?

If leaven is at issue as an organizing principle of that which puffs up (pride) and leads to spoilage (downfall), the discussion following this metaphor turns it into a mistaken literalism.

The warning given has been tamed, domesticated, turned into a simple fact (“fake news”, in one of today’s favorite memes). We no longer have to make use of our measure-of-meaning tools and can set them aside to have one more opportunity to remember how hungry we are and how all the world should circle around this reality. We shall not rest until we have “daily bread” dropped in our lap.

“Beware” becomes but a drone in the background which can be tuned out. We are so sure that “yeast” means “bread” and since we don’t have bread we don’t have to worry about being “leavened”.

Moral Injury

The correct links for Moral Injury links referred to yesterday should be:

https://www.law.upenn.edu/live/files/4602-moralinjuryshayexcerpt.pdf

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/rita-nakashima-brock-ph-d/moral-injury-the-crucial-missing-piece-in-understanding-soldier-suicides_b_1686674.html

Mark 8:15

So Jesus gave them this warning. “Take care,” he said,“beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”


yeast is good in the short run
breads rise well
but don’t travel well
for journeying choose hardtack

yeast is for the settled
it is a sign of privilege
Wonder Bread® was a status symbol
if we can be sold yeast
what can’t tempt us

see how the priests parade
always at the front of the line
their cut of your tithe
comes off the top
be on guard


To be in the presence of “yeast”, the living cause of bread spoilage, is in the words of Marie Joseph Lagrange, to be in the presence of “a principle of moral corruption that contaminates all it touches”. (Bratcher253)

However you want to define the particular expressions of spoilage exemplified by the Pharisees or Herod or Scribes or Crowd or any other player in Mark’s script, it is exactly that which is present in the Twelve, then, and you and me, now.

If Lagrange were writing today he may talk about “moral injury” that happens to one when what they know to be true is overcome by some other power that causes them to deny that depth understanding in their decision-making. This is the underlying cause of hypocrisy. This is deeper than any mask we wear at the moment. It is what allows us to accept injury of another with “indifference”. This is what breaks our ability to trust, to suspend our disbelief.

This field of growing awareness can be accessed through psychology  or morality.

Presumably the loaf that was a constituent part of Jesus’ boat was unleavened. It is this always presence that can be contrasted with any justification juggling we do to excuse our indifference. A popular excuse is that of calling on the oppressed to wait for a more opportune time, to tell one more personal story in the face of systemic oppression, while they are daily dying, physically dying. Remember your loaf; be glad; choose “non-indifference”.

Mark 8:14

Now the disciples had forgotten to take any bread with them, one loaf being all that they had in the boat.


carry provisions at your own risk
even the little you have
will be asked of you
therefore feign forgetfulness
avoid sharing

here is an amazing gap
that taught can be mislearned
so who gets the blame
teacher or student
or is judgment counter-productive

in a day of hyper-individualism
we blame teachers
and remove their resources
as an incentive to do better
there is not much that is crazier

apparently the real problem
is with mother-packed lunches
no bread is Mom’s fault
if that doesn’t hold there is always
a bad field-trip list of items to bring

students and later followers
look to a wonder-worker
to come through for all
when push comes to pull
and stomachs are growling


Having forgotten to bring any bread there is the abundance of grace that still, forgotten from a previous time, has bread available. In comparison to 5 loaves for 5,000 or 7 loaves for 4,000, one loaf for 13 is a pretty-good ratio.

Bratcher252 translates this literally as “and except for one loaf they didn’t have (anything) with them in the boat.”

In The Christian Century (October 13, 2017 issue on “Fall Books”) Heather King reported on a formative book for her—He Leadeth Me by Fr. Walter Ciszek, SJ. King appreciates the following sentence describing secretly celebrating the Eucharist with fellow prisoner during his 15-year Siberian captivity: “These men would actually fast all day long and do exhausting physical labor without a bite to eat since dinner the evening before, just to be able to receive the Holy Eucharist—that was how much the Sacrament meant to them in this otherwise God-forsaken place.”

This loaf is for the Twelve what the multiple loaves were to the gathered crowds this side and the other side of then current, and still applicable, boundaries separating one from another over various forms of power—religious, military, social, etc. To have a forgotten “loaf” return to memory is to never be without anything. It is helpful to remember collectively as well as individually.

Update on restart

It has been a couple of busy weeks here with out-of-town events: Presenting on “Community and Covenant”, Celebrating an award by a friend, Attending a Westar seminar. Also assisting on a major paper for a Colloquy on “Missio Dei” (I’m agin it), reading in “Putting God Second: Saving Religion from Itself” by Donniel Hartman (recommend it), and the usual surprises found in life.

Right now it looks like a restart of comments here will begin on October 16. That will give me time to cache a few comments so next busy times (already known at the end of October/beginning of November) can co-exist with these stanzas and comments on Mark. This is fair warning that there may be another hiatus that comes along unannounced.

Thank you for your comments, corrections, and questions along the way—they will make a difference when these beginning thoughts are more strictly edited after the end of Chapter 16.

Blessings on whatever busyness you have been experiencing.

Wesley