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Daily Devotional • February 1 

James Cornwell
Nourished by Bread
A Reading from the Gospel of Mark 8:11-26

11 The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven. 12 He sighed deeply and said, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to it.” 13 Then he left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side.

14 The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. 15 “Be careful,” Jesus warned them. “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.” 16 They discussed this with one another and said, “It is because we have no bread.”

17 Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18 Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” “Twelve,” they replied. 20 “And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” They answered, “Seven.” 21 He said to them, “Do you still not understand?”

22 They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. 23 He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?” 24 He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.” 25 Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. 26 Jesus sent him home, saying, “Don’t even go into the village.”

Bread is a common topic of conversation in the gospels. As he is at the Last Supper, Jesus is here more concerned about the spiritual properties of the bread rather than the material benefits it provides for survival. In fact, he goes so far as to directly rebuke the disciples for being so concerned about not having enough to feed themselves, recalling the obvious fact that he had just fed 9,000 people with a mere 12 loaves — even leaving 19 baskets of pieces left over. Jesus is Lord over matter, and the disciples ought not to be anxious about their material needs.

Instead, he warns them strongly about the “leaven” of the Pharisees and the Herodians. That is, when making bread to feed to the nations, the apostles ought to ensure that they do not try to use the concerns of the spiritual and political factions of the day to get their dough to rise.

This is a perennial temptation. We see that spiritual and political matters animate the hearts of people everywhere, and the Church’s dough can at times seem awfully flat and dry. Why not try to enliven our bread with a little leaven of the aims of the politicians and cultural influencers and “thought leaders” of our present moment? After all, the gospel can seem remote and disconnected from the concerns of the faithful, why not make the message more relevant? But so leavened, we will find that the bread is not full and chewy as we had hoped, but full of empty air. 

This is not to say that the Church cannot make common cause with those seeking righteousness in our day. But we must recognize that worldly allies are inherently factional, led by provisional priests and kings, as we navigate the challenges of our time nourished by the bread that is also the Body of that High Priest and King. 

James Cornwell lives and works in Wheaton, Illinois, with his wife Sarah and their seven children.

Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer

Today we pray for:

St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Morristown, New Jersey
The Diocese of Pelotas – Igreja Episcopal Anglicana do Brasil
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