Parallel Texts: Matthew 15:32-16:4
Once again, we are near the Sea of Galilee with Jesus, the disciples and a very large crowd of people. Apparently they have all been there for quite a while, because Jesus feels that the people need to be fed. As He says, some have come from a long distance and need nourishment before they head home. In this, He shows His compassion for these people who have come to hear His teaching, and yet as the disciples point out, there was simply not enough food for such a large crowd; there’s four thousand people out there!
Have they forgotten that Jesus had no problem with five thousand?
As He did before, Jesus had the disciples gather up their supplies and directed it be distributed to the crowd, and when their provisions were passed, everyone had their fill and they had more leftovers than they had started with. After they had eaten, Jesus sent the people home, and He and the disciples crossed the Sea again. Note that Mark doesn’t record any conversation between them at this point.
Later, Mark doesn’t specify exactly when, Jesus is chatting with some Pharisees.
The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven. He sighed deeply and said, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to it.” Then he left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side.
In John’s account of Jesus feeding the five thousand in chapter six, those same people, on the very next day ask Him for a sign. here, in Mark’s account of His feeding of the four thousand, the Pharisees ask Him for a sign. I’m reminded of a story; you’ve probably heard it too:
A man heard that a great flood was coming, so he went up to the roof of his house. As the waters began to rise, his neighbor comes along in a boat and tells the man to get in, but the man declines saying that he knows God will save him. A few hours later, with the waters several feet higher, someone else comes along in a boat, but the man gives the same reply. Still later, with the waters creeping up the roofline, a helicopter comes by with a lifeline to pull him aboard, but the man maintains his position that God will save him. Finally, with the floodwaters waist-high and standing at the very highest point of the roof, in desperation the man calls out: “Oh Lord, I have faith that you will save me, when will you deliver me?”
Suddenly, the man hears a loud and booming voice from above the clouds saying unto him, “Man I have sent you two boats and a helicopter already. What do you want from me!?”
After all of the miracles and miraculous signs that Jesus has provided, and after just having fed four thousand people miraculously, the Pharisees ask for a sign… as if one more would make any difference!
Gee whiz, this reminds me of another story; lucky you!
There’s a scene in Herman Wouk’s book War and Remembrance in which a group of men are sitting around a table in occupied Europe during the Second World War. These men have all seen and heard things, enough for them to understand what the Nazis are up to and they have been trying to get word out about the Holocaust, but nobody will listen to them. Why? Why won’t anybody listen or look at the evidence? One of them utters what is possibly the most brilliant line I’ve ever read in modern literature: “They have the will to not know.”
Did you catch that? It’s very subtle… the will “to not know.” It isn’t that they don’t understand, it isn’t just that they don’t want to be bothered, it’s that they want to remain ignorant. Jesus was there because God so loved the world that He was preparing to sacrifice His one and only Son, and Jesus was willing to be that sacrifice; He wanted all men to be saved by it. Thus, we must conclude that if one more sign would save these Pharisees, He would have given them a sign. He knew, however that they wanted to not know who He was, and as a result no amount of miracles would change anything for them because they didn’t want it to. These Pharisees were not confused or unconvinced; they were working for the other side.
Jesus left them where they stood and got back into the boat.
What do you suppose God is showing us in this passage?