Our reading for this week comes from Mark 8 – 9:29.
Mark 8 begins with Jesus feeding the 4,000. Please keep in mind this is a separate event from the feeding of the 5,000 in Mark 6, though there are certainly similarities. One of the biggest differences is the location of this miracle, and the result. If you recall, the feeding of the 5,000 was feeding a Jewish crowd, and 12 basketfuls of leftovers were collected, indicating Jesus provides both physical and spiritual food, enough for the 12 tribes of Israel.
If you follow Mark’s narration from 7:24 to 8:1, we will find that Jesus speaks to the Syrophoenician woman (a Greek Gentile) in the vicinity of Tyre, way north of the usual area to which Jesus ministered. Here he casts out a demon possessing the woman’s daughter. Goes further north to Sidon, then back down toward Galilee “…into the region of the Decapolis.”
The Decapolis was a collection of Hellenistic (Greek/Gentile) cities and towns in the region of Syria. This is where Jesus cast out the demon Legion (Mark 5). Jews of the time referred to this region as the “Land of the Seven,” a negative comparison to the seven nations that frequently attacked their ancestors.
Jesus feeds the Gentile crowd in the so-called “Land of the Seven” and the disciples collect seven basketfuls of leftovers. Here Jesus is saying that his salvation and message are not only for the 12 tribes, but also for the Gentiles as well. This would not have set well with the Pharisees who kept and enforced rules on others pertaining to eating, sleeping, or having anything to do with Gentiles unless absolutely necessary. In 8:14, Jesus picks up on the “bread” theme and warns the disciples about the “yeast of the Pharisees…” Jesus further clarifies his point to his disciples:
“When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” “Twelve,” they replied. “And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” They answered, “Seven.” He said to them, “Do you still not understand?” – Mark 8:19-21
Jesus never intended his ministry to leave anyone out. There was an order in which he had to go first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. He did this in his ministry, and specifically in the feeding miracles. The Apostles followed this as well in Acts as Jesus called them in
Acts 1:8 – “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
The message was first going to Israel, then Samaria (whom Israel hated), and to the ends of the earth…Gentiles (also whom Israel hated).
Obeying Jesus in this would be difficult, and would be despised by many. Truly loving all people in this world will bring outrage and condemnation from some. That’s why Jesus reminds us that…
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” – Mark 8:34
Jesus is offensive to those who have no interest in following him. If we are truly his disciples, we will offend people too. We should never seek to offend, but in all things, follow Jesus. And this will make you offensive. The Gospel is for everyone, and some don’t like that truth. Follow him anyway…even into the hated Land of the Seven…follow him.