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.

Mark 8:1

About that time, when there was again a great crowd of people who had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to him, and said,

in those and every day
crowds are hungry
deliberately disenfranchised
intentionally dispossessed
purposely enslaved to wages
sick and weakened
widows children
endangered species
. . .

designed to show status
hunger is a primary
controlled fear
of not enough
yearning for a star
qualifying entitlement
attention must be paid
protestation made
. . .

Oh,oh. It wasn’t that long ago that there was a large crowd with nothing to eat. The disciples saw both a need and a way out of the need by sending folks off to fend for themselves.

Remember where that went—“Feed them yourselves!”

It appears that Jesus isn’t going to wait around this time, but had instructions ready to go in this foreign land.

Sergeant Jesus is about to give orders to his troops and so ears are perked up.

What’s it going to be this time? How much of my tucker-bag is going to go this time? Hopefully it will be bread and fish again and leave my date supply alone! If this is feeding/eating business is going to become expected, we’re going to have to be more conscious about what we carry with us, no longer looking for hospitality as being able to offer it in a breath.

This is an example of Mark’s working in doublets. Robert M. Fowler’s chapter on “Reader-Response Criticism” in Anderson69, reminds us of the dynamic of repetition:

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.

Taking them on their own merits, Carrington161f places them liturgically as an echo of early church convocations at Passover (manna) and Pentecost (eucharist). He notes the possibility of confusion of two different streams of tradition and that “Mark has made the best of it…. and recorded them so… and with our Western sense of verbal logic we… made too much of a formal discrepancy.”

Mark 7:37

and a profound impression was made on the people. “He has done everything well!” they exclaimed. “He makes even the deaf hear and the dumb speak!” 

overcome with wonder
we cease wondering

the wonder-working divine
is open for business

send in your prayer
indulgence sweetened

forcing promises to come true
is strangely unsatisfying

sometime who knows when
we just justify what is

wonder without joining in
is a starvation stopgap

revealing a demanding hole
unfillable from above

a wonder yearns
for a response

When we hear the people speak we need, in particular, to hear the poor speak. The Nicaraguan peasants in The Gospel in Solentiname389 reported by Ernesto Cardenal help us hear more openly.

FELIPE: “It’s the poor little people, the common people that go around saying that. They’re grateful for what he has done for them.”

OLIVIA: “The people that were already aware, that already had their ears open and their tongues loose. They weren’t the powerful, because to the powerful the liberation of the people is not a good thing.”

When we hear that Jesus has done “everything” well, more is being referenced than Mark has reported. This is a reference to a body of work, a congruence of word and deed. This event is simply a capstone to this particular arc of a larger narrative.

Even though “astonished” here is a different word than that found with a prior parallel story of Jairus’ daughter and later description of women fleeing an empty tomb, there is an experience of transformation in the crowd as well as in the one once deaf and, therefore, effectively silenced.

Here the word of astonishment, ἐκπλήσσω (ekplēssō), has the crowd “blown away” in the sense of having received a blow to their collective and individual consciousness. This pushes us out of our usual self-possession. It is when our world view, our sense of being helpless in the hands of implacable fate, finally shifts and we are collectively able to hear anew and speak/act anew—a time of liberation.

Mark 7:36

Jesus insisted on their not telling anyone; but the more he insisted, the more perseveringly they made it known,

what a silly Jesus
clearing speech
with extravagant
poking and spitting
hiding the spoken
within parable
and the silenced
until harvest time

until paradise next
we wait in unknowing
wrapped in suffering
mute and still
any divinity obscured
stature and status bowed
quieted and tamed
awaiting a sprouting

Myers83 comments:

The inclusive Jesus can make even Gentiles “hear” and “speak” (7:37; see Isaiah 35:5f). Yet we will soon see that his own disciples remain deaf (see 8:18). This irony begins to refocus the narrative on the real mission of Jesus: to bring people out of denial toward discipleship.

While appreciating the irony, this verse would have the new hearing and speaking stand on its own without an ulterior motive. This comment is more about a subsequent church than it is the work of Jesus teaching and healing where opportunity presents. Particularly in the healings of Gentiles we have a setting right or work of merciful justice.

These last two healings are more about need taking precedence to clan or faith. We have returned to the second seed parable where the seed comes forth automatically, by night and by day. Jesus can say, “Shh!”, until he is blue in the face—to have ears opened and tongues unfettered mandates their use to go beyond a usual morality, cultural norm, or instruction to, “Shush”.

Whether this event is public or private, whether the man was healed out of compassion or as a test, the change in him is metanoic — as repentance is a change in heart and life. It must be revealed.

Discipleship today is an institutional technique of the latest in purity laws to keep power systems consistent and persistent.

Wright99, is part of the current power system but awake or open enough to recognize:

When Mark urges his readers to follow Jesus, he envisages, not a boring life of conventional religion, but things happening that would make people astonished [Ephphatha-ed]. If we’re still too deaf to hear what he is saying, the problem is perhaps with us rather than with the message [euangelion].

Mark 7:35

The man’s ears were opened, the string of his tongue was freed, and he began to talk plainly.

ear bones connect to tongue bones
listen open eared
what is heard is spoken
so it is we grow
one another

another mystery
how we hear
beyond parents and peers
to claim a third ear
attuned to blessings

in a day of excited
post-truth fake news
deafening a sixth sense of meaning
a whisper can still reorient
to say what is meant

for too long we have fudged
a bit here a little more there
until who can tell
truth from falsehood any more
come away to be more here

Our marker friend “euthys” is present in one of its variants. Something of significance is happening BANG!, straightaway, right now.

Wright97–98 comments:

When you start thinking about secrets—people keeping silent, or speaking out—you realize that this little story has quite a lot of that sort of thing going on. The man himself is deaf, and can hardly speak (when Jesus heals him, Mark uses a graphic phrase which suggests that his tongue had been tied up in knots and was suddenly untied); but then he speaks plainly.

The scriptures are full of surprises when G*D is in a creative mood and mode; trees and snakes both outside and inside; floods and rainbows; youngest elevated and powerful thrown down; the discarded being pivotal to any next growth; and on and on, even unto our own time and life—any shift from being shut down and shut out to disentangling binding cords and releasing a plain word in the midst of the constraints of confusion is a blessing.

Listen into Bratcher243 reporting release in the language of peoples we may not have heard of and see if this helps give guidance for what shifts need making in both our personal live and the life of the community in which we find ourself.

In Huave… one must say “his tongue was softened”, in the sense of made pliable; in South Toradja it is said “his tongue became supple, mobile”. In other languages one may say “healed what kept his tongue from moving”….

Mark 7:34

Then, looking up to heaven, he sighed, and said to the man, “Ephphatha!” which means ‘Be opened.’ 

open up
what does
open up

In which direction or to whom/what is Jesus addressing his, “Ephphatha”?

Speaking to a deaf person wouldn’t seem to have that much effect. They wouldn’t be able to join their hope to the intended opening.

Bratcher242 suggests this to be a passive command which might be “relatable to the ears”. If to the ears, then to the whole process of physically hearing, apart from the man himself.

If Jesus is relating to “heaven” this command is one that expects a shower of blessing to be dropping upon the man.

Finally, in a scene with only two people, with the other person, ears, and heaven accounted for, Jesus sighs or groans for it is his very own self-perception cracking that he is only to tell good news to one group of people. This scene, added to previous ones, begins to formally break open a limited view of Neighb*rliness and erase the separations that come with purity.

With the transliterated use of another Aramaic word we are at once here, off to the side in the open, as well as back in a young girls bedroom. Talitha cum (Awake!) and Ephphatha (Be Open!) begin to shimmer back and forth until each is better seen in the other’s light.

We are also back in Nazareth with those who knew Jesus as a youth and young man. They knew too much to suspend their disbelief. They were closed. We can even imagine Jesus using this word with them as they closed ranks against him or as he turned to shake the dust from his sandal at their lack of hospitality.

If we listen and understand our reading of Mark is also a rewriting of Mark in the context of our time and experience, we can hear this word, Ephphatha, still echoing. To hear a new word is to be challenged to also speak it for teaching deepens the understanding.

One of the on-going questions is how much dressing up the basics need for us to be able to hear them. We are addicted to “New”, “Improved”, and other superlatives. Would we be open to hear “Be Open” as well without it having the quaint, quasi-magical sound of an ancient language? Would we hear Jesus as clearly if he bowed and spoke to his inner depths instead of looking into a beyond (heaven)?

Mark 7:33

Jesus took him aside from the crowd quietly, put his fingers into the man’s ears, and touched his tongue with saliva. 

every healing is different
some it is better not to see
very much like making sausage

there are incidental healings
no one sees a hem touched
we cheer a word rolling up a mat

there are multi-layered changes
filled with finger ears and tongue
requiring second tries to clear trees

there are healings with and without
your or my or any faith component
much less active resistance

random vehicles to the same effect
each unique to avoid copycat technique
reducing life to standardized answers

draw apart
do the necessary
move on

While most of Jesus’ healings have been done in plain sight of a crowd, there are those that are not — Peter’s unnamed mother-in-law, an unnamed leper(?), Jairus’ unnamed daughter, the unnamed daughter of an unnamed Syrophoenician woman.

Jesus has also taken the disciples off by themselves after a teaching or practicum to deepen their discipleship (4:10, 6:31, 7:17). We might be witnessing the formation of another extra-church disciple such as the Geresene left to tell his story or an “anonymous Christian” as described by Karl Rahner.

Saliva has been used by mothers since time immemorial and some cultures, Bratcher242 reminds, see it as a “means of blessing (Shilluk) or therapy (Kiyaka)”. Sometimes it is difficult for us to deal with personal responses to what we name as gross.

This scene has also made it into the sacramental life of the church. Carrington159 notes:

It is read in the Greek liturgy during the season of Lent when candidates were being prepared for baptism. In Rome it passed into the baptismal ritual, and was enacted with the candidates … in the ritual called the Opening of the Ears…. The fact is that the power that was in Jesus and in his gospel could not express itself adequately in mere words; it activated his whole body, hands, fingers, eyes, and tongue. it communicated itself through gestures and physical contacts. There was an externalized ‘sacramental’ quality about it.

Mark 7:32

Some people brought to him a man who was deaf and almost dumb, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him.

you who have ears
speak what you hear

you who hear not
mimic what you see

however imperfect
words and actions
their source
intimate creation’s resilience

unnamed sponsors
for one another
each myself writ larger

The word κωφός (kōphos, blunted, dulled), describes a blocked process of not getting sound waves through to comprehension. We know this also happens if we are intentionally or ideologically opposed to an alternative view or simply from distraction.

Mark, the artist, understands ways in which everything is connected to everything. Having just exemplified healing beyond faith and inclusion of a sassy mother in a patriarchal culture, he “anticipated that this radical message would fall on deaf ears.” Myers83 continues, “So it is no accident that his ‘telling’ (7:14ff) and ‘showing’ (7:24ff) the principle of inclusion is followed by the healing of a Gentile man unable to speak or hear!” [Let it be noted that, beyond a physical deafness, the same resistance to hearing can be applied to Jesus’ disciples, in particular, and other Jews of the day, regardless of their politico-religious sensibility.]

Perkins613 puts it this way:

Hearing and speech have a symbolic role to play in Mark’s narrative. The Syrophoenician woman was so skilled in speech that Jesus healed her daughter. Jesus’ disciples, on the other hand, have shown increasing difficulty in understanding what Jesus is telling them. They clearly need some form of healing that will enable them to truly hear—that is, to understand.

When we hear that some people brought a deaf and mute man to Jesus there are echoes of friends lowering a paralyzed man through a roof and of one more trap (“Let’s see him try to heal this one [snicker–snicker]. It is not easy to engage in re-writing Mark. Our hopes and fears continue to limit how we understand Mark’s hopes and fears.