By Sarah Cornwell
A Reading from the Gospel of Mark 8:11-26
11 The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, asking him for a sign from heaven, to test him. 12And 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.” 13And 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. 15And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out — beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.” 16They said to one another, “It is because we have no bread.” 17And 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? 18Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember? 19When 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.” 21Then he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”
22 They came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him. 23He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Can you see anything?” 24And the man looked up and said, “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.” 25Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. 26Then he sent him away to his home, saying, “Do not even go into the village.”
In yesterday’s gospel reading, we read how Jesus took a few loaves of bread and some fish and fed 4,000 people. Today, in the very next set of verses, the Pharisees ask for a sign from heaven. The miraculous feeding failed to impress them. Unfortunately, the same appears to be true for the disciples. Upon departing, the disciples are concerned that Jesus is displeased because they only remembered to bring one loaf of bread to share between them. Both the reaction of the Pharisees and that of the disciples can illustrate how we respond to God working miracles in our own lives: we either fail to recognize a sign for a sign, or it fails to make a lasting change in how we perceive our lives from that time forward.
For the Pharisees, feeding simple people a simple meal is not impressive enough to be a sign from God. Where are the flash, the pizazz, the thunder and lightning from heaven? In looking for grand gestures from God, we fail to see the mundane miracles occurring right before us. We might also miss God calling on us to participate in these mundane miracles, not seeing the simple and immediate need in front of us, wandering off instead in search of bigger, flashier mission work.
For the disciples, they witnessed the miracle, they participated in handing out the food and gathering the leftovers, but it failed to leave a lasting impression. The Pharisees dismissed the feeding as a non-sign, and that suggestion was enough to cause the disciples to doubt the miracle they had just witnessed. No matter what God does for us in our lives, we still need him to help us be receptive, so that all of his works can make a lasting impression. The Lord may not act the way we want, with flashy, gaudy signs, but he will provide what we need, even if it’s a simple meal that gets us through another day.
Sarah Cornwell is a laywoman, ballet teacher, and an associate of the Eastern Province of the Community of St. Mary. She and her husband have six children and they live in the Hudson Valley north of New York City.
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The Diocese of Amazônia (Igreja Episcopal Anglicana do Brasil)
St. Matthew’s Cathedral, Dallas, Texas