Scripture Reading: Mark 8:14-21
The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. “Be careful,” Jesus warned them. “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.” They discussed this with one another and said, “It is because we have no bread.” 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? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? 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?”
A few days ago (see February 13: Slow Learners) we reflected upon how the apostles were slow to understand what Jesus was trying to teach them. Not surprising, really, because everything he said contradicted everything they had been taught. Consequently he had to repeat lessons. One of them was multiplying a few fish and loaves to feed thousands. This was to demonstrate his ability to work miracles. The purpose was two-fold: one, to let them know who he was and what he was capable of doing; and, two, to let them know what they were capable of doing through him.
After everybody was fed, there were seven basketfuls leftover. They got into a boat and set sail to the region of Dalmanutha. There, Jesus was questioned by the Pharisees, who asked him for a sign. He told them there were going to be no signs for them. Then, he got back into the boat with his apostles and set sail again. “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees,” he told them. He was cautioning them about how the Pharisees’ teachings could corrupt their listeners. However, the apostles didn’t get the point. “It is because we have no bread,” they said among themselves. One can picture Jesus shaking his head in bewilderment.
“Why are you talking about having no bread?” he asked. "Do you still not see or understand?” Obviously, they didn’t, and the lessons begin here in earnest. “Are your hearts hardened?” he asked. This was the problem with the apostles. A hard heart prevents us from understanding spiritual truths. A sermon in church is heard by hundreds of people, but although the message that everybody hears is the same, not everybody will understand the truths contained in it the same way. “Though seeing, they do not see,” Jesus would later say. “Though hearing, they do not hear or understand" (Matthew 13:13).
So, what causes the hardening of a heart? The “heart”, incidentally, is considered to be the hub of human personality, producing things we would normally ascribe to the “mind”. So what hardens the heart? Well, sin for one. Pride for another. Setbacks and disappointments for a third. What’s the antidote? We need to confess our sins to God, asking for the grace to lead a changed life. We need to humble ourselves, especially before God. And we need to let setbacks and disappointments serve to build character, not destroy it. See Romans 5:3-5 how this can happen.
And, of course, seeking God with all our heart. There’s no better antidote than this!