Acedia and God’s Repeated Revelations (Trinity VII sermon)

The Israelites Collecting Manna from Heaven; Unknown; Regensburg, Bavaria, Germany; about 1400 - 1410; Tempera colors, gold, silver paint, and ink on parchment; Leaf: 33.5 x 23.5 cm (13 3/16 x 9 1/4 in.); Ms. 33, fol. 81v

Romans 6:19-end            St Mark 8:1-9


But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.
(Rom 6:22 NIV)


Today's gospel relates how Jesus miraculously provided bread and fish for 4000 people. This was the second time Jesus performed such a miracle. The first time was recorded only two chapters before, in Mark chapter 6. There Jesus multiplied bread and fish for an even larger crowd of 5000 men, women and children not included in this number.

Why did Mark describe the same miracle? And why did he do this happens more often? There were two times when Jesus calmed a storm on the sea of Galilee, two times when demon-possessed men cried out that they knew who Jesus was, and two occasions when Jesus healed blind men, to name a few examples. Perhaps this repetition was necessary for Mark’s audience. In Jewish thought, two witnesses are required to be certain about something, but Mark could also have had a different purpose. Repetition can be helpful. It helps to remember and also invites readers to compare the stories. The differences between events could highlight various aspects of Jesus’ message, for example.

I’m not sure what effect the repetition of miracles has on you, but I do know what it has had on me. Let me be honest. Repetition makes me not more but less attentive. I’m inclined to fast-forward when I see similarities: ‘I’ve seen that and know that.’ Instead of paying more attention, I pay less attention. And I may not be alone in this respect. People can get weary of repetition.  

Does that also count for miracles? Unfortunately, yes. This happened, for example, to the Israelites who were delivered from Egypt. In the desert, God gave them manna, the miraculous bread from heaven, but after a short time, it didn’t seem to strengthen their faith anymore, and it also didn’t improve their understanding of God's character. 

If humans can become weary of miracles, one wonders whether it wouldn’t have been better if Mark had chosen something else to write about. John wrote in his gospel that all the books in the world could not contain everything Jesus did. So Mark had plenty to choose from and could have used the precious space in his gospel for something new instead of repeating the same miracle. However, that Mark, as a divinely Inspired author, chose to repeat the same miracle suggests it was essential. And to cut a long story short, while researching for this sermon, I stumbled upon layers of complexity in Marks's gospel that blew me away. Finally, I realised how vital this repetition is.

But I also discovered I was not alone when I wanted to fast-forward the miracles. The apostles may have developed the same problem. After the first feeding miracle, Jesus’ disciples went into a boat and came into a storm. It was that time when Jesus walked on water and calmed the storm simply by using his word. Mark's gospel notes: ‘They were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.’ In other words, the disciples had failed to comprehend the significance of the first feeding miracle! If they had understood, they wouldn’t have been astonished when Jesus calmed the storm.

With this in the back of our minds, we realise that the repetition of the same miracle acquires an entirely different context. Jesus was offering them a second chance to learn an important lesson. But did they get it the second time?

Mark’s gospel says that after the feeding miracle, Pharisees interrogated Jesus, demanding a sign from heaven. Jesus dismissed their request, and again, like after the first feeding miracle, they went into the boat. Then we read: ‘Now they [the apostles] had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat.’ This is quite interesting because they had seven baskets of food left after the miraculous feeding. That they had only one loaf indicates they had given away all the food, probably to the people going home. However, this is not the main point.

While the apostles were worried about their lack of food, Jesus cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” (Mark 8:15) It is as if Jesus was saying: be careful not to make bread with ingredients of the Pharisees and Herodians. This incidentally shows that Jesus was not speaking about literal food. The bread had a spiritual meaning, like the feeding miracle.

Let’s see how the disciples responded after they had received the lesson for a second time, and Jesus even gave them a hint when he spoke about the leaven of the Pharisees. Mark states: ‘And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread.’ In other words, they still missed the point entirely! They didn’t even try to understand what Jesus meant with His warning about the leaven. What a terrible shame!  

Jesus responded, perhaps a bit sternly:

“Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?” (Mark 8:17-21)

Isn’t this painful? It must have been very painful for the apostles! Here we see that the apostles, even though they were so close to Jesus, didn’t grasp what Jesus wanted to teach them and repeatedly missed the point. This would culminate during the events surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion. Then Jesus’ death would catch them by surprise, although Jesus had tried to prepare them many times. We can trace their lack of understanding to this moment and perhaps even earlier.

Now we arrive at perhaps the most bewildering part of this story. As readers, we expect Jesus to finally explain what the apostles should have taken away from these miraculous feedings, just like He did when He used parables. But as we read along in Mark’s gospel, we may come to the shocking conclusion that Jesus didn’t explain anything directly! He left it to the apostles to figure it out, and by extension, Mark leaves it to us as readers. But why? Why not explain it? And what was wrong with the apostles? Why didn’t they understand?

As you know, Father David explained that for seven weeks during this Trinity season, the Scripture readings highlight different passions and how we need to master them to mature as children of God. Father David spoke about pride, vainglory and dejection. Today’s reading concerns the deadly sin called acedia, also translated as sloth, laziness or negligence. Sometimes this sin manifests as simple laziness or lack of motivation. But often, it’s far more subtle and pernicious. It can take hold of diligent people who fill their days with work. Acedia can manifest itself in Christians as laziness in seeking God. We may say to ourselves that we know what is essential for our salvation and that we, therefore, know enough. Then we stop reading the Bible or make no effort to grow in understanding. 

Jesus warned about the leaven of the Pharisees and the Herodians. These were, unknowingly, enslaved by this sin. They had witnessed the miraculous feeding but still asked for a sign from heaven. Now we see how ridiculous it was – but they didn’t realise this, and neither did the apostles at that time. If Pharisees had paid attention and had done some soul-searching, they would have realised the sign from heaven was standing right in front of them. 

Acedia is a sin that causes us to ignore what God has already given us, while at the same time, it may lead us to question God and demand that He do or give more. But often, we don’t need more; we need to pay attention or use what God has already provided. Only after we are faithful with small things will He give us new and more significant truths or gifts. 

Jesus asked the disciples: ‘Having eyes do you not see … And do you not remember?’ This deceptive sin of spiritual laziness, the sin of not diligently trying to understand and take hold of God’s gifts to us, had captured the apostles. They already knew about Jesus’ power to work wonders, so what was there to think about? This sin can also get a grip on us. For example, it made me pay less attention when I read about the same type of miracle twice.  

How can we recognise this sin in our lives? That may not be easy sometimes. It is easy when we have no desire to worship or serve Him. It’s more complicated when we still do. When confronted repeatedly with the same situations or challenges in our life, we should be triggered. That may be an indication that God is trying to teach us something. We should particularly be triggered when we miss thankfulness towards God and are inclined to demand things from Him.

When Jesus and the disciples came out of the boat, they arrived at Bethsaida. Here the story makes a full circle; this was near where the first feeding miracle occurred, and He had walked on water. There they brought Him a blind man – or in other words, a man who seeing could not see. Interestingly, the man could see after Jesus healed him, but still not clearly, so he needed a second healing, which he also received. Here Mark immediately presents the cure for the blindness that acedia causes. We can be healed by coming to Jesus and asking Him for help. But we may not be cured in one instance; we may need His repeated healing touch. Likewise, we might also need repeated similar experiences, repeated exhortations, and repeated spiritual instruction.

Today, we are privileged to participate in holy communion. And returning to the spiritual meaning of the feeding miracle, it is important to note that Mark used the exact words in his gospel for Christ breaking the bread at the Last Supper as when He broke and multiplied the bread for the multitude. In the feeding miracle, the bread was broken before it was given to the people. So already, at that time, it was an image of Christ’s body. When we receive the bread and wine, we partake of the same miracle. And we have this opportunity every week; it is a repeating miracle in our lives. 

But we must be careful not to become weary of the repetition; let no spiritual laziness get hold of us. Instead, the repetition should encourage us to take every chance offered to understand what God wants to say to us. If we look carefully, we can see God's face and discover His love for us ever more deeply. And after being fed and having received His healing touch, He gives us strength to go into the world to do His work. Because ‘now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.’ (Rom 6:22 NIV)


Logo Ascension Optima skewed transparent 2 black


Worship Address: Adventist Church, Boomberglaan 6, Hilversum

Mailing Address:  Robijn 13, 3893 EN Zeewolde

Contact: (+31) 06 124 104 31

Donations:  NL75 INGB 0709 7677 49 (t.n.v. All Saints Anglican Church Amersfoort.)
(This All Saints account is designated for Ascension funds only.)

or you can use the Givt App:

Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. Psalm 127:1,2