15Feb Tuesday of Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

Gen 6:5ff. The beginning of Noah’s flood, caused by human wickedness; the Lord’s regret at creating the human race.

Mark 8:14ff. Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees! Jesus is amazed at the blindness of his disciples.

A Word Deeply Rooted

On first reading today’s texts are focussed on externals. We are fascinated by the story of Noah and the flood that covered the earth; we hear James speaking about gifts of life and penalties of death; and in Mark the disciples are worried that they have too little bread, as they embark on a hard pull across the Sea of Galilee.

Our own reflections, and our theology, must also begin with externals. It is the sight of the poor and the oppressed that stirs us into considering what place or purpose suffering may have in the wise providence of God. The behaviour of the people in Noah’s time provoked regret in God’s heart and that phrase in Genesis raises all sorts of theological problems: how can God regret? Did he see the creation of mankind as a mistake? Is there room for change in the divine mind? Similarly in the gospel Jesus’ response to the disciples turns into a volley of questions which evinces surprise on Jesus’ part that his followers acted as they did: “Do you still not see or comprehend? Are your minds completely blinded? Have you eyes but no sight, ears but no hearing? Do you not remember how I broke the five loaves…?” The gospel ends on the question: “Do you still not understand?”

We begin with the externals but we must not remain with them. So it is not a good method of biblical interpretation to exhaust ourselves in arguing about the externals, as in the case of Noah’s flood: did it really cover the earth? could all those animals have been contained within the ark? Even if archaeology shows that mammoth floods swept across large areas in Mesopotamia and gave rise to various flood stories, these all tend to show the writers struggling with theological issues. The flood story in Genesis begins with the dispositions of the human heart; for when the Lord saw how much wickedness was on earth, and how no human desire was even anything but evil, he regretted having made man, “and his heart was grieved.” The Scriptures move from external actions to human desires and to regret in God’s heart.

First Reading: Genesis 6:5-8; 7:1-5, 10

The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created – people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favour in the sight of the Lord.

Then the Lord said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you alone are righteous before me in this generation. Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and its mate; and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and its mate; and seven pairs of the birds of the air also, male and female, to keep their kind alive on the face of all the earth. For in seven days I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights; and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground.” And Noah did all that the Lord had commanded him. And after seven days the waters of the flood came on the earth.

Gospel: Mark 8:14-21

Now the disciples had forgotten to bring any bread; and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out – beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.” They said to one another, “It is because we have no bread.” And becoming aware of it, Jesus said to them, “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to 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 collect?” They said to him, “Twelve.” “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?” And they said to him, “Seven.” Then he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”