Homily February 14th, 2023

Tuesday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time – Mk 8:14-21

            In today’s Gospel we’re presented with a rather odd chain of events. While on the journey after meeting with the Pharisees, a trip which probably would have taken around six hours,[1] the disciples realized they had but one loaf. Jesus warns them about the “leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod,” which they mistakenly take as a reference to physical bread for eating, at which point Christ unloads a series of seven questions, of which only two the disciples give answers for. In order to understand this better, we can consider two things: first, the word used for the disciples’ action when they “concluded among themselves” what Jesus meant, and, second, the words that Jesus uses in His questions.

            First, we’re struck by how the disciples reach a conclusion that really has nothing to do with what Jesus says. He warns against the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod, and given that leaven often had a negative connotation in Jewish thought, as it implies sinfulness, and no offering to the Lord in fire could have leaven in it, it would seem fairly clear that the meaning is symbolic.[2] It’s clear the disciples have no idea what it means, because they “concluded among themselves” that it meant the bread they had forgotten. That word for “concluded” dialogízomai means, properly speaking, to “go back-and-forth when evaluating. . . .  The term implies one confused mind interacting with other confused minds, each further reinforcing the original confusion.”[3] The worst part of all, is that rather than simply ask Jesus what He meant, they discuss it among themselves with Jesus right there. It would make sense, if they any questions, to ask the One who said it, since He’s right there! But they don’t.

            It’s no wonder, then, that when Christ follows this up with a number of questions, it seems almost to show His hurt at the fact that they really haven’t grasped anything at all yet. This leads us to our second point, the words Christ uses in His questions. There are three that particularly stand out: first, Christ twice asks, “Do you not understand?” That word understand, syníēmi, literally means, to put the pieces together, to synthesize and reach a final understanding.[4] Likewise, Christ twice asks if they remember what He had done, if they recall His miracles. Thirdly, He asks if their hearts “are hardened,” literally, unperceiving like stone: nothing makes it in; everything stays on the surface.

            Although we might find the response of the disciples to be rather ridiculous, in our own lives, often we answer Christ the same way. In the midst of challenges and difficulties, we simply complain or refuse to accept sufferings as loving opportunities to grow closer to God. In this, we can do three things: first, we can try to understand, as best we can, that everything works for the good of those who love God. This doesn’t mean that we will understand God’s will entirely; our job is to love and to do His will, and not necessarily understand it. However, we know that God wants our salvation, so we can try to put the pieces together and know that everything, down to the smallest, more annoying part, is part of God’s plan to bring me salvation. Second, we can remember the good things that God has given us in the past; in his letter James tells us: “All good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no alteration or shadow caused by change.” God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. If we can recall His past blessings, we can be assured that He will continue to provide for us. Lastly, we can open our hearts to love God, even in the midst of difficulties. Of course, when we don’t understand, we can always turn, not to ourselves, but to Christ, who wants us to draw closer to Him. Through the intercession of Mary, Mother of Faith, let’s ask for the grace to trust in Jesus, and to turn to Him in all our needs, seeking to love His will, even if we don’t understand it.

[1] Cf. The Pulpit Commentary.

[2] Cf. W. E. Vine, Reflections on Words of the New Testament, 107.

[3] HELPS Word-studies 1260 dialogízomai.

[4] HELPS Word-studies 4920 syníēmi.



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