“Do you still not understand?”

The faithless seek signs; the faithful show mercy, as we read in Mark 8:11-26.

The Pharisees came forward and began to argue with Jesus,
seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him.
He sighed from the depth of his spirit and said,
“Why does this generation seek a sign?
Amen, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.”
Then he left them, got into the boat again,
and went off to the other shore.

The disciples had forgotten to bring bread,
and they had only one loaf with them in the boat.
Jesus enjoined them, “Watch out,
guard against the leaven of the Pharisees
and the leaven of Herod.”
They concluded among themselves that
it was because they had no bread.
When he became aware of this he said to them,
“Why do you conclude that it is because you have no bread?
Do you not yet understand or comprehend?
Are your hearts hardened?
Do you have eyes and not see, ears and not hear?
And do you not remember,
when I broke the five loaves for the five thousand,
how many wicker baskets full of fragments you picked up?”
They answered him, “Twelve.”
“When I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand,
how many full baskets of fragments did you pick up?”
They answered him, “Seven.”
He said to them, “Do you still not understand?

When Jesus and his disciples arrived at Bethsaida,
people brought to him a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him.
He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village.
Putting spittle on his eyes he laid his hands on the man and asked,
“Do you see anything?”
Looking up the man replied, “I see people looking like trees and walking.”
Then he laid hands on the man’s eyes a second time and he saw clearly;
his sight was restored and he could see everything distinctly.
Then he sent him home and said, “Do not even go into the village.”

He sighed from the depth of his spirit. Do you not weep for Jesus? The Pharisees continually argue with Jesus; He must be so frustrated at their intransigence, at their lack of faith despite their position of religious authority, at their lack of vision despite their command of the scriptures. Yet here He is again, before them, they demanding a “sign from heaven.” No sign will be given them.

And then He is confronted by the disciples, who have forgotten to bring bread. It doesn’t say as much, but I get the sense they want Him to make a miracle and feed them. He must be exasperated. “Guard against the leaven of the Pharisees,” He warns them. Guard against seeking miracles or signs from heaven. He reminds them He has already produced miracles in feeding the thousands from the bread of the few, but not to satisfy the Pharisees and Herod, only to satisfy the needs of the hungry. To serve humanity!

Then He comes upon the blind man, whose sight he restores. When Jesus sends him home, Jesus tells him, “Do not even go into the village.” Don’t go where the crowds are; don’t show off this miracle to satisfy the Pharisees.

Jesus was never about producing miracles for the faithless, as a sideshow. Jesus was always about serving the needy. He cured the sick, gave sight to the blind, fed the hungry, not as a way to prove who He was but as a way to bring comfort in a time of need to the faithful. “Do you still not understand?” He asks the disciples.

In a time when churches fill with people seeking miracles, when preachers fill churches by offering to do miracles like a circus sideshow, and when preachers offer up everyday disasters as signs (or miracles) of God’s reaction to people’s sins, this passage from Mark should tell us what God thinks of such theatrics. We aren’t miraculously cured by people but by God; God doesn’t do signs on demand; God doesn’t whip up disasters to punish — Jesus didn’t once whip up a disaster against the wicked in any of the Gospels! To the contrary, Jesus calmed the storm at sea to save the disciples. And Jesus always acted in the best interest of the needy, telling them it was their faith that saved them.

Do you still not understand, Jesus asks us. His works weren’t about working miracles or producing signs. His works were those of mercy and compassion done out of love. And as He commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves, He expects us to likewise do works of mercy and compassion.

Love God and hear His words. Love your neighbor and show him or her mercy.

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