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Mark 8: 14-21 – Week 6 Ordinary Time, Tuesday (Audio Bible KJV, Spoken Word)

14 ¶ Now the disciples had forgotten to take bread, neither had they in the ship with them more than one loaf.
15 And he charged them, saying, Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, and of the leaven of Herod.
16 And they reasoned among themselves, saying, It is because we have no bread.
17 And when Jesus knew it, he saith unto them, Why reason ye, because ye have no bread? perceive ye not yet, neither understand? have ye your heart yet hardened?
18 Having eyes, see ye not? and having ears, hear ye not? and do ye not remember?
19 When I brake the five loaves among five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments took ye up? They say unto him, Twelve.
20 And when the seven among four thousand, how many baskets full of fragments took ye up? And they said, Seven.
21 And he said unto them, How is it that ye do not understand?

Jesus has performed the second miracle of the loaves and fishes, following which the Pharisees have come to him, demanding to see a sign from heaven to prove that he is the Messiah. Jesus rejects and departs from the Pharisees, and now warns his disciples to be wary of them.

Elsewhere (Luke 13: 20-21; Matthew 13: 33), Jesus uses the metaphor of leaven to describe the impact of his teaching on those who hear Jesus and who will hear his disciples convey his message. Just as the leaven is the yeast-bearing piece of dough, which, buried in the new dough, will cause the whole loaf to rise, so Jesus’ words, the meaning of which is hidden from many for now, will invite all humanity to be converted to Christianity, to be called to life.

This meaning of leaven is now reversed. The leaven of the Pharisees does the opposite of the good leaven; it is their hypocrisy and self interest and, along with Herod’s dissolute life, it poisons Israel. With these words, Jesus cautions us again to be alert, to watch, lest we be corrupted by the evils that are in our world, especially those which parade themselves seeking to be seen as good. We may be assured that, when we offer our lives to Jesus, in simplicity and purity of heart, we will be able to discern the evils of our time and not be seduced by them.

Jesus’ disciples are a recalcitrant bunch and experience enormous difficulty understanding what Jesus is teaching them. They hear Jesus speak of leaven and think only of the fact that they have forgotten to bring any more bread for their journey, no matter that they actually have Jesus with them and have recently witnessed the miracles of the feeding of the five thousand and the four thousand.

So often, in Mark’s Gospel especially, it is said that Jesus’ disciples do not understand, and in these Gospel verses they are castigated by Jesus for their failure. How can they have seen so much and understood so little? Are their hearts hardened also? Are they blind and deaf?

Yet it was these people Jesus chose to be his disciples, and to be the first to communicate his message to the world. It is a difficult journey for the disciples. First they walk with Jesus witnessing the tremendous miracles performed so many times, while they hear the parables and other teachings, and must delve for their meaning. Then they journey with Jesus to Jerusalem to experience the Passion, and the crushing blow to their hopes this must have seemed. Only at last, with the resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit do they finally understand. These are not, to start out with, extraordinarily gifted people, just regular folk. It is their journey with Jesus, in which they do get things wrong, that draws them to greatness, to become the founding pillars of the Church.

DOTH not wisdom cry? and understanding put forth her voice?
2 She standeth in the top of high places, by the way in the places of the paths.
3 She crieth at the gates, at the entry of the city, at the coming in at the doors.
4 Unto you, O men, I call; and my voice is to the sons of man.
5 O ye simple, understand wisdom: and, ye fools, be ye of an understanding heart. (Proverbs 8: 1-5)

Concluding Prayer

True Light of the world, Lord Jesus Christ,
as you enlighten all people for their salvation,
give us grace, we pray,
to herald your coming
by preparing the ways of justice and peace.
Who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
God, for ever and ever.

Audio Bible KJV | King James Version | Endnotes

The Way Of Christ And Hardness Of Heart

In this Gospel passage, Jesus and his disciples are traveling in a boat when Jesus warns the disciples to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod. However, the disciples misunderstand Jesus’ warning and think that Jesus is rebuking them for not bringing any bread with them. Jesus then admonishes them for their lack of understanding and their hardened hearts.

The way of Christ is a path of humility, love, and sacrifice. Jesus came to this world to teach us how to love and serve one another. Jesus showed us the way of selflessness and compassion, and he calls us to follow in his footsteps. In Matthew 16:24, Jesus said: ‘If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.’ This verse encapsulates the essence of the way of Christ. It calls us to deny our selfish desires and to follow Jesus’ example of self-sacrifice.

However, the way of Christ is not easy. It requires us to overcome our natural tendencies towards self-centeredness and pride. It demands that we humble ourselves before God and submit our wills to His. In James 4:6, we read: ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace unto the humble.’ This verse reminds us that God cannot work in us if we are filled with pride and self-righteousness. We must learn to submit ourselves to God and to seek His will in all things.

The hardness of heart, on the other hand, is the opposite of the way of Christ. It is a condition in which we are closed off to God’s love and grace. A hardened heart is resistant to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and is unwilling to repent of sin. In Hebrews 3:15, we read: ‘Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation.’ This verse warns us not to harden our hearts like the Israelites did in the wilderness. Instead, we must be receptive to God’s voice and willing to obey Him.

The concept of the hardness of heart is a recurring theme in the Bible. In Exodus 7:13, we read that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron. Similarly, in 1 Samuel 6:6, the Philistines’ hearts were hardened and they refused to repent of their sins. Throughout history, many religious authorities have written and spoken about the dangers of a hardened heart. For example, in his book The Imitation Of Christ, Thomas à Kempis wrote: ‘A hard heart is a miserable affliction, for it is the source of all evils and the cause of eternal damnation.’

In the context of Mark 8:14-21, the disciples’ misunderstanding and lack of faith can seem to demonstrate their hardened hearts. Despite witnessing Jesus’ miracles and hearing his teachings, they were still unable to comprehend the true nature of his message. As a result, Jesus rebukes them and urges them to seek understanding and wisdom from God. This passage reminds us that even those who are closest to Jesus can struggle with a hardened heart.

As we seek to follow Jesus’ example, let us pray for the grace to overcome our natural tendencies towards sin and to remain open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.