Study Guide for Mark 8 – for use Sunday, May 12
When Jesus asks his disciples how many loaves they have they respond, “Seven (Mark 8:5).” Seven is the number of completion or perfection as illustrated by the creation stories in Genesis. The church around the fourth or fifth century began to use the number seven as a designation for the number of cardinal sins: the seven deadly sins. Mark in telling the story of the “feeding of four thousand” is in no way trying to make the connection between sin and perfection in today’s lesson. That, however, will not stop me from trying to read this passage in light of the seven deadly sins.
All that is needed to feed the four thousand (Mark 8:1-10) was already in the grasp of the disciples. The basket of loaves held the promise waiting to be fulfilled. The basket could also hold metaphorically that which would stand in the way of the fulfillment of God’s promise: sin. “The Seven Deadly Sins” – Wrath, Lust, Greed, Sloth, Pride, Envy, Gluttony
The Loaf of Wrath – To live without ready access to food is to live on the verge of death. As survival is our natural instinct the lengths that we will go to so that our appetites may be sated is extreme. When all avenues of food are shut off an instinctive response would be one of anger. Anger naturally sows the seeds of wrath which leads us to seek revenge in the name of justice. In a world that produces more than enough food (in biblical times and now), the feeding of four thousand people is also a sign for everyone that there is plenty to eat. Anger leads to spite and vengeance which manifests itself in wrath finds an antidote in Jesus’ gesture of assuring that the multitudes will be fed.
The Loaf of Lust – Though lust is often associated with sexual impurity it can also be understood as an intense desire of money, fame, or power as well. In scripture where we see Jesus power on display, we have to recognize the underlying lust for power and fame in the disciples and in our own ambitions especially when they are left unbridled. Our intentions when we are in the company of Jesus seem pure at the moment but when we are left to our own devices we often use our association with the holy to cater to our most basic desires.
The Loaf of Greed – Greed like lust and gluttony is a sin of excess. Greed is the desire and pursuit of material possessions. The loaf of greed points more to the rulers and leaders of the day who would view possessions as a zero-sum game where there was only so much “stuff” to go around so you had better hang onto and guard everything you have while you accumulate more.
The Loaf of Sloth – Jesus is constantly reminding Pharisees and the leaders that they have fallen short in their development spiritually. Jesus then turns to his followers and tells them not to become like the Pharisees. Our failure to develop spiritually is the first indicator that we are guilty of sloth.
The Loaf of Pride – The disciples will one day ask Jesus who will receive the place of honor in Jesus’ kingdom. The desire to be more important or attractive than others while failing to acknowledge the good work of others is a sin that always keeps our relationship with God out of balance.
The Loaf of Envy – Envy is not just jealousy it is the enemy of charity which has its root in love. Envy is wanting that which someone else has earned or received but is for whatever out of your reach but be willing to do a disservice to that person to get that exact item or object that they possess.
The Loaf of Gluttony – Medieval church leaders took a more expansive view of gluttony, arguing that it could also include an obsessive anticipation of meals and the constant eating of delicacies and excessively costly foods. Thomas Aquinas went so far as to prepare a list of six ways to commit gluttony: eating too soon; eating too expensively; eating too much; eating too eagerly; eating too daintily; eating wildly.
Perhaps one of the earliest slogans of MTV describes gluttony best: Too Much is Never Enough!
1) The Pharisees demand a sign of Jesus (Mark 8:11-13). Which of the sins might be highlighted by this exchange?
2) The disciples on the boat are admonished by Jesus (Mark 8:14-17). Which of the sins might be highlighted by this exchange?
3) Jesus cures a blind man (Mark 8:22-26). Jesus twice laid hands on him in order that his sight could be restored. What does this tell us about our relationship with Jesus?
4) Peter declares that Jesus is the Messiah (Mark 8:27-30). Jesus orders Peter and the others not to tell anyone. Why?
5) Jesus foretells his death and resurrection and Peter takes issue with Jesus (Mark 8:31-38). Jesus says “Get behind me Satan!” What does this exchange tell us about the work of Satan and the role of sin even as it relates to those closest to Jesus?
There are several lists of “seven virtues” including one which lists:
chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness, and humility.
Each of the above questions could be asked in the positive “Which of these virtues…?”