Today, we pick up the story in Mark’s Gospel following Jesus’ feeding of the four thousand (8:1-9). These four verses connect to a bigger story of Jesus’ struggle with the Pharisees. Beginning in chapter five, Jesus performs one wonder after another culminating in the second feeding miracle, and the Pharisees demand a sign. A similar story appears in the book of Numbers (14:11), where God questions why the people continue to spurn him and refuse to believe in him despite all the signs performed on their behalf.
The text tells us that Jesus sighs, “from the depth of his spirit (v.12a),” and my heart bleeds for him. Can you relate to this experience when nothing you do seems to satisfy in the way you had hoped? You pour everything you have, everything you are, and it is not enough. Among the many moments in Scripture where Jesus’ humanity is apparent, this ranks high on that scale. How lonely he must have felt, did he wonder if his message—the reason he came among us—would ever be understood and embraced? He is already experiencing his passion. Almost immediately, the wisdom of his divinity can be observed as he gets into the boat and goes to the other shore (v.13). He walks away. There will be no more signs for “this generation.”
Unlike the Pharisees in this text, there were many who did believe in his signs. A Syrophoenician woman, a Greek, begged him to heal her daughter (7:24-30). She believed without question and displayed persistent faith. Yet, the Pharisees (and Scribes) show no honorable intention towards Jesus. They feel threatened by his power and presence, wishing to get rid of him. Soon we will discover that their jealousy knows no bounds.
Our first reading from the book of Genesis foreshadows the effects of jealousy on humanity. This is the reason why Cain kills his brother Abel (1:8). Abel was honoring God with his virtuous sacrifices, and this displeased his brother. Here we see that even in sin God offers mercy, and he places a mark on Cain to protect him from harm (v. 15b). That same mercy is offered to us at every turn.
Today’s message, I believe, is to persevere in love regardless of the outcomes and to know when it is necessary to walk away. In the letter to the Hebrews (4:15), we are reminded that Jesus suffered during his earthly life; therefore, he understands us completely. What a consoling thought. In those times when we do stray, we take solace in the mercy that awaits us when we turn back to God—every time.
Jean Bowler is a retreatant at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center in Sierra Madre, California, and a member of the Office of Mission Effectiveness Board of Holy Cross Province.