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

Posting Pause

Dear Readers,

After 298 postings I have no more in the queue. This means taking a brief hiatus to bank some more. In theory, when restarting, you will again receive the postings on a daily basis.

I am aware of the irony of the last posting ending with “Leaving” and “Abandoning”. It is not my intent to do either with this little conceit of mine. Nonetheless, a pause is in order after having too many irons in too many fires and a seasonal lull in energy.

If you are interested in your own study of Mark, here are three resources that have triggered the most additional thoughts per page in me.

The Gospel According to Mark, Marie Noonan Sabin, part of the New Collegeville Bible Commentary

Reopening the Word: Reading Mark as Theology in the Context of Early Judaism, Marie Noonan Sabin (priced for academia, get a used copy)

Provoking the Gospel of Mark: A Storyteller’s Commentary, Richard W. Swanson (don’t forget to watch the included DVD)

Thank you for reading along to this point and making comments on this blog and directly to me — wwhite (at) wesleyspace.net. In anticipation of picking this up on another shore….

Wesley

Mark 8:13

So he left them to themselves, and, getting into the boat again, went away to the opposite shore.


home is continually left behind
for its constraints are only revealed
in a clear-eyed look at its assumptions
available from another shore

home is not having to be taken in
home is carried nautilus-like
in expanding rooms marking
each journey stage

room by room shore by shore
test by test feast by feast
we extend our hatchling’s beginning
into tomorrow’s generations


There are many ways to leave. Is this an impatient or indignant parting? Is it more an abandoning of them, knocking the dust off Jesus’ feet. It has the feel of a more definite dismissal and his talk about little dogs with Justa. Leaving leaves no room for rebuttal.

It would be instructive to add to the markers of euthys (BANG) and palin (again), the variants of ἀφίημι (aphiēmi, send forth or go away).

Bratcher76 notes:

…the verb is used in Mark with three main meanings: (1) ‘let’, ‘allow’, ‘permit’: 1:34, 5:19,37, 7:12,27, 10:14,   11:6,16  15:36; (2) ‘forgive’, ‘remit’, ‘pardon’: 2:5,7,9,10,   3:28,   4:12, 1:25; (3) ‘leave’: 12:19,20,22,   13:2 (‘leave alone’ 14:6); with the sense of ‘go away from’, ‘abandon’, forsake’: 1:18,20,31, 4:36, 7:8, 8:13, 10:28,29, 12:12,   13:34,   14:50; with the sense of ‘let loose’: 15:37.

To go to the other side of the lake is to not only put physical distance between Jesus and his Pharisee testers, but religious and cultural distance as well.

We can almost hear the Pharisees mutter to one another, “Let him go to the Gentiles, it takes one to know one.” “Running away won’t do him any good for we will still be here if he dares show his face again.” “His avoiding the doing of a sign proves he has no connection with Heaven.” “He’s a nobody, a dog.”

Though a storm is not mentioned we can see Jesus storming off (or do you see him simply and departing above the fray?), slamming a proverbial door behind him.

All in all, the ambiguity of “Leaving” is probably the place to leave things. Still, raising an “Abandoning” option is important.

Mark 8:12

Sighing deeply, Jesus said, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? I tell you, no sign will be given it.”


with sighs too deep for words
required proof disappoints
meaning models continually fail
when carried beyond their time

trying to capture a gift event
wears out soul and spirit
both ancient and yesterday’s truth
meets today’s gang aft aglee
and cannot hold its virtue
without its very betrayal

an escalation of signs
tears at our common space
each one saying more
and signifying less


I have sighed impatiently at myself for having been ineffective in representing the blessing I have received.

I have sighed impatiently at others for holding so tightly to a smaller blessing when a larger one is at hand.

How do you read Jesus’ impatience here?

Your choice will affect how the rest of Mark will be read, particularly the apocalypticism of Chapter 13.

There are some who would look at the little word τίς (tis, probably an interrogative pronoun) and jump to the biggie of “why” while a scattered few would settle for a more pragmatic “what” or “how”.

J.B. Philips’ translation has impatience turned to exasperation, “What makes this generation want a sign? I can tell you this, they will certainly not be given one!” An implication is that they wouldn’t recognize it even if it came gift-wrapped, with their name on it.

Matthew Black’s preference for “how” brings a head-scratch musing about how we keep hanging on that is later echoed in James Russell Lowell’s hymn, Once to Every Man and Nation

New occasions [signs] teach new duties,
Time makes ancient good uncouth;
They must upward still and onward,
Who would keep abreast of truth.

There are sufficient signs from our checkered past and our indeterminate present; there are ever new signs from a potent(ial) future, to keep us active in moving them from sign to presence. This fullness of signs is wearying and testing without a retreat that reminds—the prospering of evil is an insufficient sign to bring resignation.

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 [http://visual-memory.co.uk/daniel/Documents/S4B/sem0a.html].

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.