The Enemy Within
The Enemy Within
Even in the OT, however, signs were not regarded as proof positive of God’s will. A prophet who commanded something contrary to the Torah but performed a miraculous sign was still a false prophet, for example (Deut 13:1–5). On
Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote:
Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.
Ironically, the Gentiles in the previous story who were “far off” (8:3; Eph 2:13–14) are closer to Jesus than those of his own faith and people like the Pharisees. The solemn declaration
In the Synoptic Gospels the demand for “signs” is itself a sign of attempting to gain by empirical means what can only be gained by faith and trust.
It is the false prophet who seeks to deceive by signs and wonders (13:22). Jesus forsakes signs, for “to force the evidence upon one would make a faith response by its very nature impossible.” Faith that depends on proof is not faith, but only veiled doubt. If a man hires a private eye to spy on his wife while he is away in order to “prove” her faithfulness, the detective’s “proofs” will scarcely guarantee the husband’s faith. Faith, like love itself, cannot be proven; it can only be demonstrated by trust and active commitment
The one point at which the Pharisees and Antipas are united is in their opposition to Jesus. We have noted that the circuitous journey to Tyre, Sidon, and the Decapolis in 7:24–8:9 may have been motivated at least in part by harassment of both Antipas (6:14–29) and the Pharisees (7:1–23). Their opposition is the result of disbelief in Jesus, and disbelief is also fermenting among the disciples in the boat. The “yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod” appears to be the misunderstanding or even disbelief of the disciples that would be in effect as adversarial as that of Antipas and the Pharisees.
The disciples are unaware of their actual condition. They quibble about the meaning of “bread” without realizing that they are being infected by a deadly cancer. Their failure to comprehend can produce a hardness of heart that is tantamount to the declared opposition of the Pharisees and Herod. The danger is the more deceptive in their case since they are in daily contact with Jesus; and, as in the case of Jesus’ mother and brothers (3:31–35), the fact that they are in physical proximity “with” Jesus (3:14) may lead them to presume they are also with him in purpose and mission. Their proximity to Jesus must grow into understanding, and understanding into faith, or else, like Judas, it will in the end inoculate them to the meaning of his person and work.
Failure to understand leads to hardness of heart (8:18). The plea for understanding is a reminder that faith is not separate from understanding, but possible only through understanding. This passage is a good apology for a proper understanding of Christian education. If intellectual and spiritual blindness lead to hardness of heart, blind faith without content must inevitably lead there as well. The faith for which Jesus appeals is a faith born of understanding and insight. The disciples are not chastised for not believing but for not seeing and understanding.
An ignorant heart cannot harden itself. Only a knowing heart can harden itself, and that is why those closest to Jesus—the Pharisees (3:5–6) and the disciples (6:52; 8:17)—stand in the gravest danger. The disciples mirror humanity-at-large, which is so stuck in its own world and cares that it is blind and deaf to God. The disciples are anxious about lack of bread, but Jesus is anxious about their lack of faith.