By Michael Fitzpatrick
A Reading from the Gospel of Mark 8:11-21
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?”
A Roman Catholic student at my university was taking a religious studies course, when the professor proposed that the resurrection of Jesus referred to the Church “being Christ” in the wake of Jesus’ death. The true miracle was not the bodily resurrection of Jesus, but rather the Church’s living witness after Jesus died.
When the lecture was over, this student hurried to one of the priests on staff. She asked, “I’m having a real crisis of faith at the moment. Can you tell me the reasons to believe that Jesus rose from the dead?” To her astonishment, the priest replied, “Honestly, I don’t spend much time worrying about whether Jesus was literally raised from the dead. What I try to do is find aspects of God’s creation that produce resurrection in my own life, and focus on those.” The student sought me out next, nearly in tears. “Doesn’t anyone believe anymore?” she lamented.
Jesus dealt with a similar problem. When the teachers of the law ask for a sign, Jesus knows that their request is not sincere. They ask because they do not want to believe, instead looking for reasons to expose Jesus, to find what’s “really” behind him. Even the disciples, who believe and trust Jesus, do not realize how much doubt still remains in their subconscious. They too still have eyes that fail to see and ears that fail to hear, because their imaginations have not yet become large enough to see the power at work in Jesus’ feedings of the multitudes.
Rather than doubting the linchpins of our faith, perhaps the skepticism Scripture calls us toward is to doubt whether our hearts have fully softened, our eyes have fully opened, our ears are fully listening. Before we accept a God who is too small to feed a multitude or to raise the Messiah from the dead, we could check first to see whether it is our imaginations that have grown too small.
Michael Fitzpatrick is a doctoral student in philosophy at Stanford University. He attends St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Palo Alto, Calif., where he serves as a lay preacher and teacher.
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Christ Church Georgetown, Washington, D.C.
Iglesia Anglicana de Chile