Mark 8:1 reads, “In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, 2 “I have COMPASSION on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat.”
Jesus has been teaching 3 days before he states the obvious to his disciples; Guys, I have compassion on the crowds, I’ve been teaching three days, and the crowds had no food to eat (hint, hint).
Why three days?
I’m wondering if Jesus is testing the disciples, teaching day after day, waiting to see if they are really interested and/or able, to show compassion, and if they can demonstrate even a modicum of spiritual discernment.
I can see Jesus teaching all through days 1 and 2 – hoping that the disciples will see the hungry crowds, remember that just a few days ago he had compassion on the 5,000 in Jewish territory, and miraculously fed them. He likely hoped that his disciples would show some spiritual discernment and have compassion on these 4,000 hungry people in Gentile Decapolis and turn to Jesus in faith to feed them. But they do not remember the past miracle, they do not see the present need, nor envision what Jesus could do in the immediate future.
So, we enter day three.
After teaching through the 3rd long day, Jesus finally breaks the silence by saying “I have compassion on the crowd….” (8:2). Interesting. Let that sink in. The disciples are surrounded by 4,000 people who haven’t eaten in three days. Jesus looks them in the eyes and says “I have compassion on the crowd….” What should that do to the disciples? They should look inward, and ask, oh, compassion – yeah, I guess I missed that part, but, yes! Lord, you are right. By all means, we should have compassion on these people. We remember you had compassion on the unclean bleeding woman who had faith (5:21ff), and we remember you redefined what makes a person unclean in your argument with the Pharisees (7:14), and we remember that you had compassion on the unclean Syrophoenician woman who had faith (7:24). So even though we are in unclean Decapolis, that doesn’t limit your or our love for these unclean Gentiles. And, since you very recently miraculously feed the 5,000 with just 5 loaves and 2 fish, you can also feed these people with whatever they have!
Is that how the story rolls out? No.
They don’t seem to understand that they needed to internalize and apply the recent lesson on clean vs unclean (7:14ff). Why?
Here’s the deal: They were so limited by their unclean location (Decapolis), the unclean people (Gentiles), and their religious cultural and social boundaries (Pharisaical Judaism), that they thought those same unclean limitations applied to Jesus. They genuinely could not imagine how anyone could get food there. The problem is that in the Decapolis the Jews could not enter a city or buy food without becoming unclean. But, hadn’t Jesus just redefined what made a person unclean? (7:14ff). Yes, he had. But they didn’t get it.
How do our geographical, cultural and social boundaries limit our faith? Are we like the disciples that have been culturally conditioned to assume that our faith doesn’t impact our society? Do we write certain people off just because of their zip code, race, gender or whatever?
If so, we are just like the disciples – before they became just like Jesus.