Back in Mark 7 Jesus fed 5,000 people and here in Mark 8 He feeds 4,000 more. The stories are the same in that in both instances He multiplied a very small amount of food in order to feed a very large group of people. As similar as they are in this sense, however, they are also very different (purposely so, I think) for a few other important / key reasons - ONE of which I want to focus on today.
The stories are different because of where they take place and the kinds of people who were in the crowds.
Like, in both instances we’re told how many men were in the crowd - in Mark 7 we’re told that there were “5,000 men” and in Mark 8 we’re told that there were “4,000 men”, but in both cases there would have also been women and children present who were not accounted for in Mark’s headcount.
Maybe there were 6,000 people and not 5,000?
Or maybe 8,000?
Maybe Mark was just exaggerating the number. Were there really that many people gathered on the hillside? And if there were, could they all hear Jesus even though He didn’t have a microphone? What if Mark’s numbers are way off? An exaggeration? Like, what if there were only 10 or 50 or 100? And does it matter? Or maybe Mark inflated his numbers to make a larger point?
More importantly, though, in Mark 7 Jesus feeds the 5,000 on the predominately JEWISH side of the Sea of Galilee with 12 baskets of food leftover and in Mark 8 He feeds a slightly less 4,000 on the predominately GENTILE side of the lake with 7 baskets of food left over.
That’s important, so one more time:
5,000 Jews in Mark 7 with 12 baskets left over.
4,000 Gentiles in Mark 8 with 7 baskets left over.
In his commentary on Mark (“Binding the Strong Man”) Ched Myers points out that the 12 baskets on the JEWISH side represents the TWELVE tribes of Israel (see last weeks post “TWELVE TWELVE TWELVE” for more on the significance of the number 12 in Mark) and the 7 baskets on the GENTILE side represent the Jewish folklore of the SEVEN(TY) nations of the world (i.e. the Gentile, non-Jewish world).
Do you see what Mark is doing here?
Were there really 5,000 people? Were there really 4,000?
Were there maybe 5,013 or 4,205? Or 500? Or 523?
Were there really 12 baskets leftover? And 7?
Was it maybe 13 or 14? 6? 1 or 2? Maybe 0?
I’m not sure Mark was as interested in giving us exact details about numbers as much as he was interested in us connecting to the symbolism behind the stories he was telling:
Jesus came to feed everyone on all sides of the lake - Jews and Gentiles, alike.
This wasn’t just a Jewish Messiah or a Jewish King or a Jewish Rabbi, but a Cosmic Messiah. He didn’t just come with healing for the Nation of Israel, but with healing for the Nations of the world; He didn’t just come to set things right for the people of Israel, but for all people ... everywhere.
Perhaps this is why in Colossians 1:23 Paul said ...
“This is the Gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven.”
In Paul’s estimation, the Good News of Jesus (which, remember, Jesus tells us in Mark 1 is that ‘the Kingdom of God is near’) has been proclaimed (notice the language Paul uses - the Good News has ALREADY been proclaimed) to not just the people of Israel, but to “every creature under heaven.”
God has come near.
Healing has come near.
Grace has come near.
Mercy has come near.
Love has come near.
Open arms have come near.
Light has come near.
Justice has come near.
Forgiveness as come near.
... All of the attributes of God’s Kingdom have broken through from heaven to earth in the person fo Jesus and those attributes haven’t just touched the lives of the Jewish people, but the lives of everyone ... and more than that, ALL creatures under heaven.
Every human on earth.
Every creature on earth.
Every organism in the universe.
“All creatures”, as Paul says, “under heaven.”
Since Colossians was written somewhere between 60 and 61 AD and Mark was written some 8 years later between 68 and 70 AD, I wonder if Mark was weaving the stories of the feedings together in order to bring out this very point that he maybe picked up from Paul - this idea of the Cosmic Jesus, the long awaited and promised Messiah who wouldn’t just set things right for the Nation of Israel, but for the Nations of the world?
The Jews believed that water (and the Sea of Galilee, in particular) represented the chaos of the world and so in Mark we see Jesus traveling to all sides of the chaos to bring healing, freedom, and food for the hungry - no one is left untouched, no one is ignored, no one is exempt, no one (as we said a couple of weeks ago) is left behind.
I wonder how the world might be different today if we lived like this is true?
Confession: I’m at a place in my life where I don’t think anyone is turned away from God. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that when all is said and done and God has wiped the dust off His hands from His newly created heaven and earth, I think that everyone who has ever lived will have a place in God’s new creation.
Yes, I really do think that - I dare to think that Jesus’ work on the cross is THAT big and THAT powerful and THAT final and that it’s that big, powerful, and final for everyone, everywhere.
Yes, I think there will be judgement. I think that the horrors of this world have to answered for, right? Like, it’s not a free for all where people can do whatever they want, kill whoever they want, act however they want, rape whoever they want, shoot at whoever they want, steal whatever they want, etc. without any consequences.
Judgement fits into the equation somehow and in some way.
No, I don’t think that judgement means eternal damnation where a better part of humanity is wiped out and obliterated forever and ever in some kind of underground fire pit. I think that’s an unfortunate misreading of the Bible that wasn’t around in the early church and a view of Jesus and His work on the cross that’s way too small.
How will it all work? I’m not really sure. But I believe His work is big enough and final enough to iron out the details.
And I believe that because that’s what I see when I see how Jesus lived and carried Himself. I don’t see Him turning people away or ignoring people or giving them ultimatums about believing the right things about Him or being sent to eternal damnation. I just don’t see it. Rather, I see a Man who is the exact representation of God, a Man ...
Who goes to those who have been outcasted long before they have the common sense to pick themselves up to come to Him.
Who goes to both sides of the lake to eat with and spend time with people who would be hated by the people on the other side of the lake.
Who goes to those who are hurting.
Who goes to those who are crushed by their mistakes.
Who goes to those who are haunted by their demons.
Who goes to people of other religions and other cultures.
Who goes to people who are making questionable decisions with their lives.
... He goes to these people, touches them, spends time with them, and tells them that they are loved and welcomed and that they have a purpose and place at His table.
Saying all of that could get me in trouble with some of my church friends. And I know that many people will have an arsenal of Bible verses to disprove my thoughts … many of which I probably don’t have a response for. But I’m at this oddly comfortable place in my faith where my convictions about these kinds of things are slowly changing from where I was 3, 4, 5 years ago even though my understanding of how to read certain pieces of the Bible is still catching up.
And I think that’s what faith is, really - having the courage to step out of the boat of old convictions and into the stormy seas of new convictions even though the life preserver of Bible answers that we once held on to so tightly has some holes in it and sits deflated in the back of the boat.
The stories of Jesus feeding the 4,000 on the GENTILE side of the lake and the 5,000 on the JEWISH side of the lake show me one thing more than anything else - Jesus has come to feed everyone, regardless of where they’re from, who they are, what they’ve done, etc.
Whether they ask for food or not, He WILL feed them.
Perhaps this is why in the very next passage after Jesus feeds the 4,000 Gentiles we see Him getting frustrated during a short exchange with His disciples.
Jesus had just fed the 4,000, then was ‘tested’ by the Pharisees (which is, interestingly, the same word that Mark used to open the first half of his Gospel when he said that Jesus went into the wilderness to be ‘tested’ by Satan - I’ll let you draw your own conclusions), and now we see Him and His disciples in a boat getting ready to cross back over to the Jewish side of the lake. As they get their stuff together and head out Mark says that ...
“The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. ‘Be careful’, Jesus said, ‘watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.’ They discussed this with one another and said, ‘Is it because we have no bread?’ Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them, ‘Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not understand? Are your hearts still hardened?”
The yeast of the Pharisees and Herod vs. the yeast of Jesus.
Jesus had fed 5,000 Jews and then 4,000 Gentiles symbolizing (we said) that He has come to feed everyone, to unite everyone, to bring everyone together as one. Sprinkling such yeast into His world so that a new Kingdom of unity and inclusion could rise up and out of the earthly empires of disunity and exclusion would have threatened both the Pharisees and religious leaders as well as Herod and the other rulers of the Empire because ...
The Pharisees wanted to keep Jews and Gentiles separate for religious reasons so that they (as Jews) could enforce their purity laws on the dirty non-Jewish Gentiles.
And the Roman Empire was aiming for something similar, where people of various classes and ethnicities were separated for political reasons so that certain groups would hold all the power while other groups held none.
I guess you could say that both parties (the Pharisees and King Herod) benefited GREATLY from the uneven balance of power.
And so the disciples get into the boat on the Gentile side of the lake with only ONE loaf of bread as they head to the Jewish side of the lake and Jesus tells them to beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Herod.
After everything we just talked about, why would He say that? What’s the point?
Well, the yeast of the Pharisees and Herod was one of disunity and exclusion, a Kingdom that Jesus had come to smother with His own Kingdom of love and grace and inclusion and so Jesus wanted His disciples to take note of the progression of events they had just been involved in and be on guard against the Kingdoms of this world. And the fact that they only had one loaf of bread with them in the boat is an important piece of information; I think it’s almost like Mark is winking at his readers, reminding them that at the end of the day one loaf is more than enough for everyone on all sides of the lake because everyone ...
... Is welcome to come and partake of the that one loaf of bread, the Bread of Life, Jesus - the One Who feeds all.
He is the Cosmic Jesus and regardless of what side of the lake you’re on, He’s saved a seat for you at His table. You belong here.