Mark 8 During those days another large crowd gathered. Since they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to him and said, 2 “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. 3 If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long distance.”4 His disciples answered, “But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?”5 “How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked.“Seven,” they replied.6 He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. When he had taken the seven loaves and given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people, and they did so. 7 They had a few small fish as well; he gave thanks for them also and told the disciples to distribute them. 8 The people ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 9 About four thousand were present. After he had sent them away, 10 he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the region of Dalmanutha.11 The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven. 12 He sighed deeply and said, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to it.” 13 Then he left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side.14 The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. 15 “Be careful,” Jesus warned them. “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.”16 They discussed this with one another and said, “It is because we have no bread.”17 Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18 Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”“Twelve,” they replied.20 “And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”They answered, “Seven.”21 He said to them, “Do you still not understand?”

I. Intro: Complete the following Sentence

Please help me complete the following sentence with your idea, whatever first comes to mind for you: “Sometimes I am afraid that there’s just not enough…… As I approach my 56th birthday and notice that it takes a bit longer than it used to for my muscles or my joints to stop hurting after vigorous exercise, I sometimes wonder, Am I running short on youth all of a sudden? And so soon? Nah. I’ve been a young adult for only thirty-five years. Things couldn’t have changed that quickly, could they?

II. Fear of Scarcity

  1. Logic & Genes: I pose that question because it forces us to face a fear that is rooted in experience, logic and in our genes. Its the fear of scarcity. If you’ve ever fed a baby or a toddler something she really loves, like apple sauce, and he’s eating it up as fast as you can spoon it in, its not long before you’re scraping up every last remnant of apple sauce in the bowl. And then he learns the words, “All gone!” The fear of scarcity also carries a certain logic. Its the first rule of economics: whether its widgets or walnuts, we’re always dealing with finite numbers of anything, at any given moment. This fear is even genetic; we’re often fighting the temptation to over-eat because our bodies want to put on fat for the next winter, or whenever the next famine should hit. And if no famine comes, then our genes are at odds with our cardio-vascular systems.
  2. Jesus’ Three-Point Challenge: But in today’s Gospel story, Jesus poses a challenge to that fear of scarcity, not once, not twice but three times.
    1. First, when he multiplies bread and fish for the second time in his ministry. Such generosity and hospitality on his part I am calling, “The Leaven from Heaven.”

    2. The second time is when Jesus warns his disciples against the Yeast of the Pharisees, what I’m calling today, “The Yeast of the Beast.”

    3. The third time is when Jesus challenges his disciples with the questions, “Don’t you get it?” “Do you have eyes but fail to see?” Ears but fail to see?….”Are your hearts so hardened?”

III. Silly Questions:

  1. Examples: Those are tough, hard questions he asks. Contrast them with silly questions. Questions like,How did they get the “Keep off the Grass” sign on the grass? And, How do you get off a nonstop flight?
  2. Three Silly Questions from the Gospel Reading: Add to those silly questions more silly questions from today’s Gospel reading:
  1. Jesus, where are we going to get enough bread to feed at least four thousand people?” the disciples ask in verse 4. As though Jesus had not already multiplied five loaves of bread for at least five thousand people. This now is the second time they’ve faced such a hungry crowd, and the second miracle of multiplication in the Gospels.
  2. Another silly question: when the Pharisees came and asked him, right after that miraculous multiplication of bread, “Jesus, would you show us a sign from heaven?” (sigh) What do you call what just happened on the other side of the lake? What were Jesus himself, and his whole life and ministry, but a great big sign from heaven? No wonder Jesus sighed.
  3. Or thirdly, when the disciples, after these events, ask each other, in the boat, “What does the Master mean by ‘the leaven of the Pharisees, and of Herod?’” which I’m also calling, “The Yeast of the Beast.” But in their defense I must confess, I’m having trouble making the connection between yeast, the Pharisees and Herod, too. When the story ends with Jesus’ question, “Do you still not understand,” I have to say, “I’m working at it.” By the time I finish this message, you can tell me if I got it, and if I communicated it well.

IV. What Questions Tell us About the People who Pose Them…

  1. …like with the guy who asked, “Why do ballet dancers dance on their tiptoes? Couldn’t they just hire taller dancers?” I don’t think he’s had much exposure to classical dance forms.
  2. When the disciples ask, “Where will we get bread for these 4,000 people?” when they had already seen Jesus multiply bread before, what does that tell us about them? That either they were very, very forgetful, or they were so fearful of scarcity that they they even thought that Jesus had only so many miracles of multiplication up his sleeve. He’d used one already back near Capernaum; better not assume that there’s any more.
  3. Or, I would propose that they were prejudiced, bigoted, and fearful of Gentiles. Or at least indifferent. Because if we back up a few verses before chapter 8, we find that the setting for this second miraculous multiplication of bread is on the Gentile side of the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the ten towns, called The Decapolis. There, Gentiles are in the vast majority. I wonder then if the disciples were thinking that if our rabbi had multiplied bread on the Jewish side of the lake, he surely wouldn’t do that on the Gentile side of the lake too, would he? But that’s precisely the thing that makes this second miracle of multiplication even more miraculous: Jews and Gentiles in First Century Palestine sharing the same loaves of bread. And this is precisely what the prophets had said would happen when the Messiah came.
  4. As for the Pharisees, when they asked Jesus for a sign, what does that say about them? Either they know of the miraculous multiplication that just occurred across the lake, or they don’t. If they do know about it, then it doesn’t count to them as a sign. Not the kind they want to see. Maybe something more like fire coming down from heaven to consume Gentiles, rather than bread coming down from heaven for Gentiles to consume. In which case that’s just fear and prejudice. “But you’re not getting any sign from heaven” like that, Jesus says. But if they don’t know about this miracle, then the self-appointed experts, enforcers and interpretors of God will and God’s work in the world are clueless and oblivious to this marvelous work of God,. Whether they’re clueless, or they could care less, how sad for them.
  5. And when the disciples in that boat ask, “What does the Master mean by ‘the yeast of the Pharisees, and of Herod?’ Is it because we only have one loaf with us?” what does that question say about them? For one thing: that they’re very, very slow learners. But Jesus diagnoses them even more deeply, when he asks, “Are your hearts so hardened?…Have you ears but cannot hear?..Eyes but cannot see?” Yes, because their hearts are hardened, their ears are stopped and their eyes are blinded by fear, the fear of scarcity. They experience Jesus multiplying bread two times, and they’re still afraid of starving to death! That persistent, crazy-making, irrational fear of scarcity and its divisive, delusional effects, is what Jesus is warning them against.
  6. And That Fear is what the Disciples Share with the Pharisees, who ask for a sign. And with Herod, who ruled by dividing and conquering, and corruption. Both groups are motivated to ask their silly, clueless questions out of the fear of scarcity. Scarcity of what? you may ask.
  1. The disciples are afraid that there’s not enough bread to go around, even after all the miracles of multiplication that they have experienced, that one loaf is not enough. “We’re all gonna die!”
  2. The Pharisees are afraid that there’s only so much of God and his goodness to go around, so they have to protect it against the unclean, the sinners, and the Gentiles. That’s precisely why they would not share bread with the very people whom Jesus had just fed.
  3. And Herod fears that there’s not enough power or security to go around, so he has to keep his by theft, by fear, and by pitting people against each other. Such divisive, destructive fear, I repeat, is “the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod,” or “the Yeast of the Beast.” Contrast that with the Leaven from Heaven, the generosity and hospitality of God that united Jew and Gentile around that bread, near that beach.

V. When Bread is More Than Just Bread

  1. Now, if yeast is more than just yeast in this story, then bread is more than just bread. Bread stands for God and for the limitless, multiplying love of God that grows with the sharing. Jesus even called himself, “The Bread of Life.” Evangelism, sharing the bread of God’s Word is, as Bishop Newbigin famously put it, “One beggar telling another beggar where he got bread.” So it is with all the other forms of mutual aid, service, witness and worship that we share. They’re like bread that we share.

  2. As Jews, the disciples and the Pharisees should have known this already: from their own Bible they read about the Hebrews in the Sinai Desert collecting manna every morning that had fallen with the dew. Nobody, we read, ever had too much, and no one had too little. Those who tried to hoard it, to stockpile it and to corner the market on it, only found that it spoiled and stank to high heaven the next day. Jesus is creating such a world among his disciples; one in which no one has too little, and no one too much. Its the economics of his kingdom: as long as his disciples are sharing with each other and the world, they’ll be surprised at how much God will provide: always enough. Or as Gandhi put it, “There is enough in the world for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.”

  3. The opposite is just as true: the more we hoard anything, for fear, the less there is. So the fear of scarcity can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. A friend who invests in rental property told me that to get a housing loan anymore you practically have to prove that you already have on hand the money to pay back the loan. In which case, why would he want a loan? As he is also something of a business man, an investor and an economist, he tells me that banks and other such institutions are leery of lending for fear of the recession. And that helps keep us stuck in recession. So our fears of scarcity often become vicious cycles and self-fulfilling prophecies.

  4. This is what’s at the heart of so many wars: the fear that there won’t be enough oil, or water, or land or security to share. Then nations build up stockpiles of weapons or even go to war over such things and end up destroying the very things they’re fighting over. Then there’s not enough for anybody.

  5. The fear of scarcity, “the yeast of the beast,” is at the heart of so many personal conflicts, too. Throw in a little of this fear and a difference of opinion rises and expands into a fight for power, control and self-justification. Then people go from disagreeing over some thing, or some opinion, to arguing over how they’re arguing, all in order to prove that they’re more right, more smart and more virtuous. As though there were only enough truth and virtue for one person, not more.

VI. So What Are Jesus’ Disciples to Learn from this Leaven from Heaven?

  1. When Jesus told his first disciples along the Sea of Galilee, “Come, Follow Me,” probably the last thing they had in mind was going off to the other side of the lake to eat with Gentiles. But that’s what it took for Jesus to un-teach his disciples their fear of scarcity, that there’s only enough of God and his goodness and generosity to go around for themselves and their own kind of people.

  2. In place of that fear Jesus is teaching them confidence and trust in the goodness and generosity of God. That, yes, ONE AND THE SAME LOAF IS INDEED ENOUGH for themselves, each other, for others, for Jew and for Gentile, and everything in-between. There is indeed enough of God, and his goodness and generosity, of dignity, worth and love for people on either side of the Sea of Galilee, and beyond.
  3. Therefore, no more segregated, separated bread, whatever we mean by bread. No more of one loaf for the Jews, and one loaf for the Gentiles, lest they contaminate the Jews. Those who would receive God’s goodness and generosity must receive it from the same gracious, generous hand of heaven, and share it without distinction.

  4. Yes, there was a time to protect and nurture the riches and treasures of the covenant with Abraham, and the Law of Moses, within the boundaries of Hebrew ceremonies, sacrifices, rules and regulations. Yes, there was a time to keep up the boundaries between Jew and Gentile through kosher rules and rituals. And if anyone wants to continue keeping them out of love for their Jewish heritage, fine. But the prophets always said that when the time was right and the Messiah came, the nations would flock to Zion and would join the dispersed and returning Exiles to become God’s family together. And they’d still be Gentiles. So, if anyone missed the meaning of that meal, when four thousand gentiles ate bread from the rabbi’s hand, then let me spell it out: The Messiah is here, Jesus, the Bread of Life, and the invitation to his wedding banquet, his victory feast, goes to people of every tribe, tongue and nation. In effect, the Messiah is making one new nation.

  5. And if that wasn’t clear from the events themselves, then do the math, Jesus says.

    1. How many baskets of bread were left over when the Jews ate their fill of my Wonder Bread? he asks. Twelve. Like the Twelve tribes of Israel. And the twelve disciples. Is it too much to say that, with this number twelve, Jesus is claiming to reboot, to reconstitute a new Israel to whom God gives their daily manna from his hand?

    2. And how many baskets of bread were left over when the Gentiles ate their fill of Jesus’ Wonder Bread? he asks the disciples. Seven, the Biblical number of completeness, fulfillment, perfection and acceptance. Do the math and the sum of seven says that the Gentiles are now being welcomed and accepted around the Messiah’s table, and with them the kingdom is complete.


  1. The challenge stands before us as well: to reject the fear of scarcity and replace it with faith in God’s generosity. Whether its the fear of not enough real bread, or the bread of worth, dignity, love and security, we must face that fear and fight it lest it eat us and our most sacred loves alive.

  2. But that’s not easy in an election season, when the quest for truth is treated like a gladiator contest, in which the winner is the last one standing, and the winner takes all. That’s how most of our paid political advertising approaches most issues, on the basis of fear, as something more like a demolition derby than a discernment process, as a quest for triumph, rather than a quest for truth.

  3. Such confidence is not easy during economic hard times either, when jobs and wealth are hard to come by, and when so many retirement funds and property values have fallen way short of everything we expected just five years ago.

  4. But even in normal times, in our most intimate lives and moments, this fear of scarcity is hard to shake, whether it was……..or whatever came to mind for you when I first started this message, even if just because of our human frailty, and our mortality. And how many people of my parents’ generation and beyond have said to me, “My friends and my siblings are all passing away,” along with the vigors and powers of youth? Since I passed the median age of life expectancy in most countries some eight years ago, I feel the fear of scarcity, too, the scarcity of time and power. Then it takes courage to believe that one lifetime, and one day at a time, let alone one loaf, are enough this side of eternity. Something within us is always saying, “More, MORE, MORE!”
  5. In such times it would be well and wise to remember two miracles and one loaf: two miracles of multiplication, one of bread for the Jews, one of bread for the Gentiles (and who does that leave out of the picture?). Think about that one loaf of bread in a boat, how Jesus assures them that it is indeed enough for twelve disciples and both communities. Or, at least, that they are asking the wrong question whenever they ask, “Is it enough?”

  6. YES, if one loaf is enough in Christ, for Jew and Gentile, then there’s enough as well for black and white, native-born and immigrant, legal and undocumented, however we normally divide up the human race. Because the Bread of Life is made with the Leaven from Heaven, which nourishes and unites, as opposed to the Yeast of the Beast, which sickens and divides us. There’s always enough of the bread leavened from heaven for everyone, but never too much for anyone; there’s always more where it came from, but only when we open our hands and share it.



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