Standing in solidarity
The Pharisees continue in next week’s readings to demand a sign from Jesus, because His message and His miracles challenged their leadership. They could not accept this charismatic leader from outside their ranks. Whether jealousy or a need for control motivated them, we do not know. However, we do know their demand was rhetorical; no sign could convince them to believe. Jesus wouldn’t provide a sign – for His ministry demonstrated His message and its power. If His critics could not see God acting in their lives through His efforts, they would never see it.
When Jesus warned the disciples about the yeast of the Pharisees, he did not mean they carried bags of the rising agent ready to bake bread! He referred to the words and practices of these leaders that caused sin. Like the yeast that could make the unleavened Passover bread not kosher, the duplicity of the Pharisees and their attention to the minute details of the Law choked off spiritual growth and even caused scandal. Jesus turned the question of yeast to its positive qualities when He asked His followers about the significance of the multiplication of the loaves. In other words, what caused spiritual growth among the people, represented by the feeding of the 5000 and the 4000? The answer was simple, the message and works of the Christ.
While the disciples’ minds were stuck in the literal, they could not see the negative and positive qualities of faith and its results. If minutia sweeps us up and calcifies our relationship with God and others, what good is it? But, if our practices bring us closer to God and His people, then it makes us better people.
Later, in Mark 8, Jesus healed a blind man at the behest of the village. He took the man outside the hamlet and after laying hands on the man twice, Jesus restored sight to him but warned him not to pass along the news of the cure to anyone, for the Lord had not revealed himself as the Messiah yet. That would come in the next passage from Mark, 8:27-33.
These passages marked a turning point in the life of Jesus. No longer did He silence demons who pronounced Him the “Holy One of God.” Now He revealed himself as the Messiah, but notice He prodded that title by the question “Who do you say I am?” Some saw Him as a prophet in the spirit of the Baptist or the great Galilean prophet, Elijah, who would precede the Christ. Simon Peter, however, made THE faith declaration.
Once His followers saw Him for who he was, Jesus could unpack the meaning of that title: suffering. The Son of Man would go to His Passion and Resurrection in Jerusalem. The concept was so foreign to the disciples that Peter himself began to rebuke the Master so Jesus now turned His attention to Jerusalem and the destiny that awaited Him there. He defined discipleship in these terms. Those who would follow Him needed to do what He would do, pick up their crosses and journey with Him, even to death. Discipleship involved risk, the willingness to lose one’s life for the greater good, the Kingdom. While we might live safely as Christians in a culture that values religious freedom, many in the world suffer for their faith. How can we stand in solidarity with them?
More persecution of Christians is taking place in Nigeria than anywhere else in the world and a sudden surge in violence has put the faithful in greater danger than ever, driving many from their homes and creating severe food shortages. Priests risk being hunted out and killed. For more information and how you might help with prayer, mass offerings and donations, see the ACN website here.
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