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.” 13Then 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?”
–Mark 8.11-21 (NIV)
In today’s lesson we see another effect of a hardened heart–prejudgment. Despite all the “signs” Jesus had given folks, his healing of the sick and lame, his feeding of the masses, et al., Jesus’ opponents still wanted a sign as evidence of his divine authority. They had it in their minds that Jesus could not possibly be God’s messiah because he did not fit their preconceived notions of who and what messiah should be. In other words, they had prejudged Jesus and he was not about to have anything to do with them because of that. We can surely understand this because when others prejudge us (as one did to my wife and me last week) it does not feel very good.
We see the same kind of thing happening in some folks today. Jesus doesn’t fit their preconceived notions of who he might be or who God is. Others prejudge Jesus because his values and the values of the kingdom do not mesh with their own. For some, Jesus couldn’t possibly be God’s messiah because they do not believe that God exists.
In so thinking, Jesus’ opponents have violated the primary rule for enjoying healthy relationships. They do not respect him for who he is and honor that. Instead, they have attempted to make him (and God) into their own image and that just won’t do. No wonder Jesus seems like some unreal or fictional character. This is what happens anytime we delude ourselves into thinking we know better than God or when we make human reason with all of its flaws and potential for fallibility the final arbiter of matters of truth and religion. And that is terribly sad for those who think thusly because they cheat themselves out of real living.
But as Jesus reminds his disciples, when we do not try to pigeonhole him and make him into our own image, he can exceed our wildest hopes, dreams, and expectations. He can heal our diseases and calm our fears. After all, he is the very Lord of creation. Is there anything he cannot do? And yet even those closest to him failed to get it for the longest time. It would take his death and resurrection for his followers to really begin to see who Jesus is. Likewise with many of us and so Jesus continues to ask us the question he asked of his disciples in today’s lesson. “Do you still not understand?” Sadly, many of us must answer, “No. I don’t get it. I don’t understand.”
(As a sidebar, if you ever have wondered if the Gospels are made up stories and/or figments of human imagination, or if they were written to paint Jesus and his followers in the best possible light, pay attention to this story and dozens of others like it in Mark’s Gospel. There is no sugarcoating of the disciples here and this is all the more remarkable because there is good evidence that Mark got the content for his Gospel primarily from Peter, the first of the Jesus’ twelve disciples.)
Yet we have hope because we have been promised his Holy Spirit to live in us and lead us into all truth. The Spirit never forces himself on us or compels us to act against our will–that is just not the nature of love–and so we must actively cooperate with him and be humble enough to accept our place in our relationship with God. So when we do cooperate with the Spirit and humbly submit to God’s will and trust his good love and providence in our lives, we can have confidence that we are equipped to become truly human and agents of Jesus’ healing love and redemption. What a great opportunity and privilege that is!
Think on these things, especially if you profess to take your relationship with Jesus seriously. Ask the Spirit to help root out any vestiges of a hard heart that might still be in you. Look for evidence that you prejudge people and things on a regular basis. If you find that evidence, then you have some serious work to do with the Spirit’s help. It is difficult work but when, by the Spirit’s help, you are able to overcome your hard heart, you will find what it means to be truly alive and truly human.