Today’s readings present a captivating contrast between faith and agnosticism. In Mark’s gospel, Jesus has arrived in the region of Dalmanutha, on the northwest coast of the Sea of Galilee. He has come there after the second miracle of the loaves in Mark’s gospel. “My heart is moved with pity for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat.” Jesus fed 4,000 faithful follows who had listened to his teaching for those three days with minimal provisions. They were so moved by his teachings that they were able to put aside their hunger, their tiredness and perhaps their brokenness just to hear the precious words being spoken.
In contrast, the Pharisees present when Jesus arrived in Dalmanutha were skeptical. Because of their hard-heartedness and closed-mindedness, the same teachings that had so inspired the 4,000 left the Pharisees unsatisfied. They even argue with Jesus seeking a sign from heaven “to test him”. Jesus “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.” He then, seemingly abruptly, gets into the boat again and goes off to another shore.
We understand that faith is a gift from the Holy Spirit. However, the lesson from the stories of the multiplication of the loaves and the argumentativeness of Pharisees shows us that we must been openminded and humbled to accept that gift. James is very clear in his letter about the need to be open to the work of the Spirit: “Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. And let perseverance be perfect, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. But if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and he will be given it. But he should ask in faith, not doubting…..”
The choice clearly is ours: either we are in the company of the faithful followers who hear the words without the signs, or we are in the company of the Pharisees who remain unmoved by the same words. As James suggests, let us continually ask God in faith to be openminded to the words that Jesus shares with us in every moment of our lives.
Bill Berger has had a lifelong relationship with the Passionist Family. Bill and his wife, Linda, are currently leaders of the Community of Passionist Partners (CPPs) in Houston.