The parallels in this story with the feeding of the 5000 in Mark 6:34-44 are obvious and has sparked much debate. The text itself makes reference to the previous miracle and there are significant differences between the two accounts. Here the setting is likely the Decapolis, Gentile territory and an intensive three day teaching session.
The flow of the story is to highlight the significance of the two miracles, the amount of baskets of bread left over each time and whether the disciples have understood what the events are saying about the person and mission of Jesus. This is more ‘identity narrative’ – pretty well all of Mark is.
The conversation with the Pharisees, back on the western shore of the lake, draws attention to their disbelief and rejection of Jesus’ legitimacy. The sign is not so much a request for a miracle as proof he has divine approval. Jesus is exasperated by such disbelief and desire to box him into controllable categories.
As Jesus and the disciples take their leave to cross the lake again, Jesus warns them of the ‘leaven’ of the Pharisees and of Herod, leaven being a metaphor for corruption. His strong rebuke of the disciples for their failure to perceive echoes prophetic words of judgement and seems tough – but they are failing to see the bigger picture, that Jesus’ actions and teaching should be leading them towards ‘understanding’ of his unique power and identity.
Jesus is ‘preaching himself’, that’s what he does all the time in many different forms. Who else would dare say and do what is said by Jesus? They have not yet grasped what he is saying. The story continues to move towards confession of the Christ.
Reflection: Take a moment to consider what this story says about Jesus. What words would you use? Who do you understand Jesus to be?
Jesus Feeds the Four Thousand
1During those days another large crowd gathered. Since they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to him and said, 2“I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. 3If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long distance.”
4His disciples answered, “But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?”
5“How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked.
“Seven,” they replied.
6He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. When he had taken the seven loaves and given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people, and they did so. 7They had a few small fish as well; he gave thanks for them also and told the disciples to distribute them. 8The people ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 9About four thousand men were present. And having sent them away, 10he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the region of Dalmanutha.
11The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven. 12He sighed deeply and said, “Why does this generation ask for a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, no sign will be given to it.” 13Then he left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side.
The Yeast of the Pharisees and Herod
14The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. 15“Be careful,” Jesus warned them. “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.”
16They discussed this with one another and said, “It is because we have no bread.”
17Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? 19When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”
“Twelve,” they replied.
20“And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”
They answered, “Seven.”
21He said to them, “Do you still not understand?”