The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, asking him for a sign from heaven, to test him. 12 And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation.” 13 And he left them, and getting into the boat again, he went across to the other side.
14 Now the disciples had forgotten to bring any bread; and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. 15 And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out—beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.” 16 They said to one another, “It is because we have no bread.” 17 And becoming aware of it, Jesus said to them, “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18 Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?” They said to him, “Twelve.” 20 “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?” And they said to him, “Seven.” 21 Then he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”
There are a few exchanges to note before we move into the second half of the Gospel.
A Demand for A Sign
The Pharisees comes to Jesus and demand from him a sign. They are putting him to the test, pushing him to demonstrate his power. But Jesus will not give in to their prompting. Their demand is hollow because it comes from a place of division and testing, not a place of support, unity, or positive curiosity.
A sign from heaven will not change anything about the way Jesus goes about his ministry. A sign from heaven will only draw people into a repetitive cycle of demanding more signs. One sign of power is never good enough. We always want more. Like the old story “If you give a mouse a cookie…” We are never satisfied. Besides, Jesus does deal out signs of the kingdom like a street magician. He works the power of the kingdom by leaning into the needs of others.
“Mark inserts this exchange hard on the heels of the second wilderness feeding as if to say that the ‘sign’ of the kingdom is the very terrestrial vision of a new order where we can all ‘eat and be satisfied’ (Myers, 224).”
The signs of the kingdom of God have been planted in the rich soil of Jesus’ concern and ministry with the most vulnerable. God breaks into our world in the ordinaryness of life. In the sharing of bread. In the diversity of people gathered around a table not governed by the rules of society, but by the equality of the kingdom of God.
Bread as A Symbol of the Kingdom
Bread plays an important role in the ministry of Jesus. We could say that the ministry of Jesus can be described as the “sharing of bread.” Mark reflects on this symbol, a major part of the first half of the Gospel, before leading us further.
There is confusion in the boat among the disciples in verse 14 - “Now the disciples had forgotten to bring any bread; and they had only one loaf with them in the boat.” The same word is used for bread and loaf - arton. The first instance is plural and the second is singular. This seems confusing until we entertain the symbolic nature of the passage.
There have been two loaves for Jesus’ in the first have of the Gospel - the Jewish and the Gentile. The pattern of the crossing narratives, Jesus’ movement to the “other side,” is the movement between two loaves. On each side there is a feeding story with loaves in wilderness places for hungry crowds.
Myers cites the work of Norman Beck to help us with these symbolics:
The number five (five loaves and 5000 men), the number 12 (12 baskets) and the Hebrew name for basket (kophinos) belong to the Jewish Circle; the number seven (seven loaves and seven baskets), the number for (4000 men or people), and the Greek name for basket (sphyris) belong more specifically to the Greek….One loaf in the boat is all that they needed! Separate bread (eucharistic?) is not needed for Jewish…and non-Jewish followers of Jesus [Beck, 1981] (Myers, 225-26).
Jesus is the one loaf for the new community of God’s kingdom. Through him both sides have been united through the breaking of bread. Separate loaves are no longer needed. Myers ties the symbols together: “The task of forging this new community is like a herring voyage across deadly waters; there is enough bread for the journey, but there is only one loaf (Myers, 226).”
Questions for Modern-Day Disciples
- When do we look for signs and miss the power of God’s kingdom in the ordinaryness of life?
- How is bread an important part of our life as followers of Jesus?
- How do we “share bread” with others as a sign of the kingdom of God?