Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Trinity 7, Mark 8:1-9 Initial Thoughts

How did we ever get sucked into the translation disciple for μαθητής? Was there ever a more harsh law word in all of English? A μαθητής is a student, a pupil, a learner.  Ninja sensei have disciples that live under their discipline. Rabbi’s don’t. They have pupils. But with the Lord it is more, of course. Pupil or student just won’t do. The Lord is no mere rabbi. The right word is catechumen. That is what the Twelve were and what all those follow (not lead!) Jesus are.

We’ve dealt enough with σπλαγχνίζομαι, but here it is again.

“been with Me” for προσμένουσίν μοι seems a bit weak. They have remained in His face. This is fellowship talk. They are abiding in His face and now stand in that in between place, away from the city, away from home, but with the Lord.

ἀπό μακρόθεν ἥκασιν – the verb is perfect. We might translate it with an English perfect: “they have come from a great distance.” But that doesn’t get the nuance. The Greek perfect is almost always a present in English. We rightly translate γεγραμμένον “It is written,” not “It has been written.” The idea in the Greek perfect is that some completed past action has present and ongoing consequences. So also here. Some of these people have come from a great distance and that is hanging over their heads. It defines and endangers them. There are not way stations, no hotels, no resting places along the way. So we do better with “they are come from a great distance.”

The 12 catechumens respond with this uncommon word for feed:  χορτάζω. TDNT doesn’t deal with it. It is a cognate of the word for pasture. According to Wuest, Plato uses it to refer to men with some derision, perhaps like the Krauts and fressen. But the Lord uses it in the sermon on the mount, μακάριοι οἱ πεινῶντες καὶ διψῶντες τὴν δικαιοσύνην, ὅτι αὐτοὶ χορτασθήσονται. And the catechumens add ἄρτος. This is the second time the Lord has done this sort of thing. Maybe these catechumens have been better catechized than we thought and the question is a set up. Maybe the Lord means more than physical sustenance and maybe the catechumens are in on it.

παραγγέλλει τῷ ὄχλῳ ἀναπεσεῖν ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς  - He commands the crowd to recline as at a feast upon the earth. Παραγγέλλει – “He directs” is too weak. He commands is better. He doesn’t command they sit upon the grass here but that they recline and upon γῆ.

Insofar as this miracle is typical of the Sacrament of the Altar, this command foreshows the sacramental presence moving out of the Temple and to all the earth. No longer is the presence limited to the Holy of Holies. So also something is shown here of the Lord’s exaltation. Since the Resurrection the Lord now always and fully uses His Divine rights and attributes as a Man. Thus He – as a Man – in His risen Body and Blood – is present in the Sacrament all over the earth and is not limited by physicality. So they sit upon the earth for a feast, as the kings and rulers of the earth, for they abide in the presence of the Christ.

If this miracle is typical of the Lord’s Supper, so also is the manna in the desert. This miracle stands parallel to that. But no distinction is so important as the posture of those who eat and are satisfied. They do not labor for this bread. They do not go out and gather up a day’s worth. It is brought to them.


  1. I think there is something different going on here in this miraculous feeding. In Mark 6, they recline as a feast and they sit down in drinking groups. The people have only been with him that day. And so they could easily go to town and buy some bread. The feeding of the 5000 gives us a picture of the Lord's Supper as a banquet feast.

    But in the feeding of the 4000, the people have been with him for three days and if they were to return home or try to go and buy bread, they would die in the wilderness. This miraculous feeding gives the picture of what you need just to get you through to the next day. It's the daily bread, without which you'd starve.

    I guess the point is that we don't always need a feast. We don't always want a feast. Sometimes we just want hotdogs and twinkies. Sometimes we just want bread and water because we are so hungry, so thirsty, so famished that anything else we'd just throw back up.

    Now we don't know what it is to starve, but we do know what it is to be famished by sin and death. We know what it's like to wake up in the morning and wonder if we can make it through another day, another hour, another minute of who we are and what we have done. We know what it's like to be haunted by the unclean and defiling spirits of past sins because we have dreamt of them in the night and see their effects in the day. We know what it is to follow the Lord for these long and dark days and what it would mean to be leave by the same way and try to return home. It would mean death. It would mean destruction.

    The feeding of the 4000 tells us that the Lord's Supper isn't just a Feast. It is also the stuff that you need, the stuff that He gives out of His mercy so that you do not starve, so that you don't die, so that you live.

    Peter Scaer has a great exposition of this on Issues, Etc entitled "Jesus' Sacramental Ministry" (http://issuesetc.org/2012/05/23/1-jesus-sacramental-ministry-dr-peter-scaer-5232012/)

    1. Great thoughts. I will check out the Scaer stuff.

      I still think, however, that having them recline, not sit, and upon the earth is significant. But, admittedly, the food He gives is not feast food but the common, daily fare necessary in the ancient world: some bread and some wine (water wasn't always safe to drink) and just a smidgen of fish. But then there is enough for them to be filled and satisfied. It is common food but uncommonly satisfying. OK. There is not wine mentioned. But there must have been wine. Whether there was or not, one suspects that like the Cana miracle this bread was uncommonly good.

  2. A few thoughts if I may.

    DP: There are not way stations, no hotels, no resting places along the way. So we do better with “they are come from a great distance.”

    DK: Perhaps the stress should not be on the act of coming, but the "present result" of the past action, as this is one of the things a Greek Perfect does. In a word: they now find themselves in a helpless situation. There is nothing ahead, and surely they cannot make it back. They are stuck in no man's land (like O.T. Israel) with no provisions or hope of finding any. They're done for. They will die here. Unless the Lord provides, and provide He does! He fed their bellies and He fed their souls with Bread and His word. Both. There can be no question that the catechumens who read Mark's catechism (and I see all four gospels as the church's four catechisms - not mere biographies of Jesus) understand that the Lord's power in doing this, is now seen and realized in the Holy Supper. The one they will soon partake in once they (like the 12) are fully catechized. The Lord did numerous miracles, but only a very few are recorded, and those for the sake of catechumens to the end of the age.

    Anyone who would preach this text without an explicit sacramental connection dominating (like Joel Osteen, or Charles Stanley would,) is missing the point.

    It is also of ultimate significane, and again the catechumens who first learned from Mark's catechism understood, that Jesus gave the sacrament, and the disciples are to administer it.

  3. The Feeding of the 5,000 took place in the Spring, at the time of the Passover. The Feeding of the 4,000 took place later in the summer when the grass, like it is today, is burnt up, and the people had to sit down on the hard earth. And while in the 5,000 Jesus does more with less, in the 4,000 Jesus does less with more. Sometimes it's not about the more but the less. Jesus feast is also for those who don't want to sing, don't feel like rejoicing, and need a meal just to get them by.

  4. There's also a strong connection to the curse of Gen 3, following from the abundance of food in Gen 2. The crowds recline to eat Jesus' bread ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς. Of this γῆ, God says, ἐπικατάρατος ἡ γῆ ἐν τοῖς ἔργοις σου ἐν λύπαις φάγῃ αὐτὴν πάσας τὰς ἡμέρας τῆς ζωῆς σου (Gen 3:17). Prior to the Fall, no one would faint on the way, because all the trees were there for food. Now there are no trees, just grass not suitable for human consumption—presumably with a good number of thorns and thistles thrown in for good measure!

    But Jesus takes the food produced in the sweat of men's brows and blesses it, thereby overturning the curse on it. And now it is food of the new creation: freely available again, without toil. In this world, it may be 'only' bread and 'only' sufficient to get you through another day or another week. But where Jesus is, there His children get to eat τὸν ἄρτον τὸν ἐπιούσιον: not only the daily bread of the Catechism, but the bread of the Kingdom that already comes as a foretaste of the new creation.

    So, bring on the Daily Mass, lest the people faint on the way!

  5. Well, in addition to the Sacramental stuff, this miracle certainly identifies him as the Lord and Shepherd of Psalm 23, who makes us "lie down" in green pastures, etc. Definitely an allusion to that, as well as identifying him as the One who fed his people in the wilderness. John "wrote these things" so that we might "believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God..." I would say that the Synoptics also have the goal of identifying Jesus with YHWH.

  6. I find it interesting that Jesus shows himself to be such a good Pastor here. He is afraid to send the sheep home without feeding them, lest they perish on the way. Isn't this how every good pastor ought to be? Isn't this why we want our sheep to eat well every Sunday, to have the bread of life in Word AND Supper? Isn't the motivation that we do not want to send them home hungry, spiritually unsatisfied, because they may perish on the way. (Some research could be done on the word "way" as a metaphor for the Christian life). Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd in John 10, but here he demonstrates his goodness--he cares for the sheep and wants them to be fed and nourished. Just some additional thoughts.

  7. What a wonderful discussion. Many thanks, to the Reverend Fathers! I very much like the propostion, advanced here so well, that the Gospels were seen and employed by the early Church as a catechism emphasing both Word AND Sacrament. In this regard, I wonder if there is some peculiar connection between Mk 5:43, and Mk 8:2?

    The synagogue ruler's daughter is raised from the dead, and the Lord takes pains to command that something be given to her eat, in order to sustain that little life which has been returned to her father.

    Christ indicates in Mark 8, that His (hearing) multitude has His compassion. Why? They have been with Him three days (Mk 8:2), perhaps an allusion to His own death (it surely must have been on His mind, at this time; cf. Mk 8:31!). There is nothing left to chance, in the Scriptural turn of phrase. As St. Paul taught, indeed as the Lutheran catechism proclaims, we are verily baptized into the Lord's death, three days full ... we share it, as we do His resurrection to a splendid new life, like unto Jairus' offspring. Yet as sojourners of a wilderness world, a sobering reality full of crosses and dangers, we are subject to perils. If we avoid the Lord's house ... but instead retreat to the false comforts of our own dwellings, in a fasting state (Mk 8:3) ... we will assuredly "faint by the way." But the compassionate Lord has all the answers.

    True, the Catechumenical Twelve may well puzzle among themselves, "From whence can a man satisfy these men with bread in the wilderness?" But the Man from Heaven desires to furnish His Body and Blood, so as to lovingly and pastorally keep the Baptized multitude, His flock, very sustained along the pilgrimage way.

    "Talitha cum;" arise, ye blessed baptized, and eat.


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