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Everything changes in Chapter 8. This is the esoteric heart of Mark's gospel. Here, the text confronts the reader like a mystery play. We enter it as a character, and the Christ speaks directly to us from the world of Spirit.

Until now, the impulse of the Gospel has been to hint at Jesus’ nature through demonstrations of power: weather and feeding miracles, supersensible knowledge of his opponents’ thoughts, healings, and, most of all, exorcisms. All these moments share one thing in common: whether wind, or thoughts, or illness, or unclean spirits, Jesus commands spirit forces in the material world. The question everyone keeps asking is “How?”

Finally, alone in a boat with his disciples, Jesus initiates us to the higher reality of what we've been seeing:

Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? – Mark 8:18 (RSV-CE)

He plays a quick number game: how many baskets of leftovers were there after each feeding miracle? The answer: 12 and 7.

Twelve: the number of months of the celestial year, time and space marked by the procession of the twelve signs of the zodiac rotating slowly through a year of nights. Twelve is the complete turning of the sky, revealing the complete rim of the visible cosmos turning in its creator’s hand.

Seven: the number of the wandering lights, the planets that move erratically against the backdrop of the fixed stars. To many in the ancient world, these were the celestial intelligences governing human fate. To the wise, and certain magi, while they may not have dictated human events, at the very least God makes his wisdom known in their movements.

In these two numbers, Jesus sums up the point of entire gospel thus far: Jesus holds authority over the visible cosmos and every invisible power that moves within it. He is from outside the system. No mere teacher, or prophet, or magician, his power is truly from out of this world.

Chapter 8 is the hinge of this gospel. Now that it's settled “how” Jesus does what he does, the rest of the Gospel pivots to tackle the “so what.”

Notice how deliberately Mark structures this transition. To make sure we're seeing clearly now, Jesus next tests our perception in the figure of a blind man he heals in two steps at Bethsaida.

And he looked up and said, “I see men; but they look like trees, walking.” Then again he laid his hands upon his eyes; and he looked intently and was restored, and saw everything clearly. – Mark 8:24-25 (RSV-CE)

Of the Twelve chosen apostles, Peter is the first to join us in this new revelation. Well, almost.

And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” – Mark 8:29 (RSV-CE)

He recognizes Jesus is the Lord Christ, the anointed one prophesied of old as coming to restore God's kingdom, but his vision is limited to the sensible world. Peter imagines a cosmic king coming to restore an earthly throne. Jesus' vision knows no such bounds.

Where Peter's perception is shaped by Daniel’s Son of Man (Daniel 7:13-14), Jesus reveals a suprasensory reality shaped by Isaiah’s Suffering Servant (Isaiah 52-53). Combining the two, he unveils an esoteric mystery: he will open a way of life to those who join themselves to his dying.

For his part, Peter prefers his original, triumphal, temporal view.

And he said this plainly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter, and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not on the side of God, but of men.” – Mark 8:32-33 (RSV-CE)

In scolding him, Jesus reveals his full human Incarnation. Cosmic Son of Man or no, clearly he'd prefer a happier ending for himself. Like Peter. Certainly like us.

And he called to him the multitude with his disciples, and said to them, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” – Mark 8:34 (RSV-CE)

The rest of the Gospel enacts the Divine reality Jesus reveals here. Now that the mystery has been revealed, do I deny myself? Or do I just stay part of the crowd?

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Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the Catholic Edition of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1965, 1966 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.