By: Raymond Harris
Note to the Reader
We are continuing our examination of the Gospel of Mark. As such, I encourage you to invest additional time reading the Gospel in conjunction with this article.
Peer-pressure – the influence of others. Every person has been and will continue to be influenced by some one from some group at some point. The influence can be positive. It can be negative. Sometimes the influence is not fully seen or understood, except through hindsight. Influence sets all around us, from believers to un-believers.
Leavening of Bread
The opening events of Mark Chapter Eight reveal the Feeding of the Four Thousand.1 Following a three-day journey into the wilderness, Jesus, motivated by compassion, decided it would be fitting to feed the crowd that had been without food for three days. In response to Jesus’ declaration, the disciples asked how He expected to feed the people.
The King James translates the passage as “From whence can a man satisfy these men with bread here in the wilderness?” While the King James captures the information, it seems like it is lacking the feeling that the disciples’ thought Jesus declaration to be absurd. So, for me, the following quote from another translation seems to capture the disciples’ desire for Jesus to get a reality check, “How can anyone find enough bread to satisfy these people in a remote place like this?”2
What we need to keep in mind is the focus of the disciples. And, by the way, they are correct in their observation. It is impossible for any man, any person, to feed four thousand when the conditions are not favorable to such things. Talk to someone who has worked in a soup kitchen or a concession stand, preparing food for hundreds of people is hard work; preparing food for thousands of people is exhausting. Yet, Jesus took a seemingly impossible situation and gave it a two-fold perspective that will be expounded upon in the coming chapters of Mark. One, all things are possible for the one who believes;3 two, with God all things are possible.4
Leavening of Influence
The apostles learned a powerful lesson about impossibilities, but overcoming physical impossibilities was not the biggest lesson from Jesus to his disciples that day. Immediately following the Feeding of the Four Thousand, Jesus taught his disciples to beware of the leavening, the improper influence, of religious leaders. It is a very interesting thing, we, as people, put our trust in religious leaders. I have. You have. The question is: to what extent have they influenced us?
Jesus was very pointed and poignant with his disciples. He asked them a series of eight questions:
1. Why are you talking about having no bread?
2. Do you still not see or understand?
3. Are your hearts hardened?
4. Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?
5. Don’t you remember?
6. When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?
7. When I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?
8. Do you still not understand?
Two of those questions offer moments of concrete answers like: twelve baskets, and seven baskets. But questions like: “Do you still not see?” “Do you still not understand?” are almost insulting. Yet, it seems that Jesus is drawing a distinct clear conclusion: it is possible for one to see and not understand; it is possible for one to be influenced and be unaware of the consequences. This is quite the contrast – contrasting spiritual possibilities against the seeming impossibility of physically feeding people.
Let us move that lesson from then to now. It is natural, and I suppose proper, that we want to assume that the religious leaders who teach us are correct, honest, humble, God-fearing, well intentioned, always trying to understand God’s words and God’s teachings. The reality of human history is that there are religious leaders who have improperly leavened themselves and they, in turn, leaven corrupt influence to the people around them. Sad, really. This situation hinders and seemly prevents people from seeking God, because of the behavior of spiritual leaders. If it has happened in human history, it can happen to us. So we must be mindful and be careful.
Leavening is an interesting thing. It is a required ingredient for baking bread. Leavening is also required so that proper influence is felt, seen, and observed for the good. Yet, leavening is something that can be detrimental, when the leavening is not measuring up to the Fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.5 Leavening is a small ingredient that has large consequences, we must make sure that we are learning from the properly leavened religious leaders in order to have the proper leavening seen in and affecting us. May the LORD bless us as we seek to be aware of the leavening.
1. “Feeding of the Four Thousand.” Mark 8.1-13
2. Mark 8.4, Quoted CJB, Link NASB.
3. “All things are possible for the one who believes.” Mark 9.23
4. “With God all things are possible.” Mark 10.27
5. “Fruits of the Spirit.” Galatians 5.22-23a, NIV.