Mark 8:10. The scene has just shifted from the miraculous and climactic feeding of thousands with a mere seven loaves and a few fishes — Jesus filling the overwhelming deficit between his children’s needs and his abundance. He takes what little they had and gave them far more than they could ever need. More than enough.
Some disciples and Jesus push off in a boat from the eastern side of the Galilean Sea, met on another shore by some Pharisees who want more. His healings and feedings and abundant meeting of needs weren’t what they were looking for. It wasn’t enough.
So they cross the lake once more, distancing themselves from the prideful doubters. Jesus sighs deeply, his soul mourning over the Pharisees’ hardened hearts, their hypocrisy, their deceitfulness, their antagonism. Like leaven in bread, their false doctrine corrupts and spreads and infects, puffing themselves and others’ up with sinful self-sufficiency, leaving no room for truth and humble dependence. No room to be healed or fed. They thought they were enough.
Jesus warns his people — watch out. Be careful of that leaven.
But it’s quiet now. Safe. It’s just them and their rabbi on a boat. A boat not rocked by violent waves in an angry sea like others have been. The sky was likely blue and clear, not dark and menacing like skies that would come later. It’s hard to let warnings sink as deeply into our soul as they must when we’re comfortable.
Their minds wander, as they often do when things are going well… Wait. Someone forgot to bring lunch — at least not an adequate one. It’s not enough. I heard ‘leaven,’ he must be talking about bread. The bread we forgot. Because it’s all about us, our abilities, our planning, our lists, our tasks, our bellies that need filling. If we do everything just right, we’ll have enough for today and tomorrow and next year. And if we don’t do enough, we won’t have enough. Sometimes thinking we aren’t enough is just as dangerous as thinking we are. In both cases — whether we fail or succeed, we are the provider of our needs.
As the leaven even then was at work in their hearts, they too had already forgotten. The provision and the filling and the unplanned, abundant portion they had received, barely even digested. As their provider sat right next to them.
“Do you still not see or understand?”
Jesus had been talking about Pharisees, but for some reason now he asks them about earlier in their journey and earlier in the day. Their last meal.
“When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” “Twelve,” they say.
“And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” “Seven,” they say.
He has them go over the details. Not because they don’t know them, but because they must dwell on them. They remember the numbers of baskets, but they have forgotten or can’t see what those numbers mean. What they reflect. He does not ask them how much they gave, he asks them how much they got back. He draws them from what they did to what he did. For them.
The loaves and the fish and the overflowing baskets are lovely blessings, but the ultimate blessing is not the full belly, but having one who cares whether or not they are hungry or full. The one who took what they handed him, broke it, multiplied it, and handed back an amount far greater than the need. He gave them a tiny but incredible taste of God.
“Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!” (Psalm 34:8).
The only lesson worthy of the miracle, was that God cares for his children. Because that’s what remains whether their bellies are full or they are starving on a prison floor. That’s what would carry them to the end.
“This lesson they had not learned. No doubt the power of the miracle was some proof of his mission, but the love of it proved it better, for it made it worth proving: it was a throb of the Father’s heart. The ground of the Master’s upbraiding is not that they did not understand him, but that they did not trust God; that, after all they had seen, they yet troubled themselves about bread” (George MacDonald, ‘The Cause of Spiritual Stupidity’).
Jesus came not to give us bread, but to give us God. And he gave us himself so we could have God. We will never stop worrying about bread until we grasp this. When our minds are so full of worry, we can’t think with simplicity about anything else. We must stop and remember what we have seen, what we have been given, what we have eaten and tasted — not to add up and count and collect so we can throw up a lovely little #blessed — but to remember the hands it was given by and ponder why. We must learn to gaze up — in our abundance and in our want — to the God who loves us so fiercely and knows our needs long before the hunger pangs start. We must believe and trust that he will always be bigger than that measly little loaf and bigger still than more baskets of bread than we could ever eat.
“Distrust is atheism, and the barrier to all growth. Lord, we do not understand thee, because we do not trust thy Father… The things of thy world so crowd our hearts, that there is no room in them for the things of thy heart, which would raise ours above all fear, and make us merry children in our Father’s house! Surely many a whisper of the watching Spirit we let slip through brooding over a need not yet come to us! Tomorrow makes today’s whole head sick, its whole heart faint. When we should be still, sleeping or dreaming, we are fretting about an hour that lies a half sun’s-journey away!” (George MacDonald, ‘The Cause of Spiritual Stupidity’).
Help us to obey, to resist, to trust.
Help me to look back and count my baskets. Remember whose hands gave them. Recognize that he is enough. He was, he is, and he always will be. Know that I was provided for because I am deeply loved. Know that because I am deeply loved, I will be provided for. Not always in the ways I want but always in the ways I need. While I can’t follow the thread of providence forward to see the peaks and valleys where it will take me, I can trust and rest in the fact that I know where the thread I desperately cling to leads. My provider is on the boat with me, carrying me to my Father. And when my tired eyes are struggling to see what often feels so far away, I can always follow that providential thread back and clearly see from whom it came, for that is to whom I will go.