Prepare to listen. Be still and silent. Pray: Help me, O Lord, receive your words in my heart and hear them with my ears so that I can speak them to others. (from Ezekiel 3:10-11)
Read Mark 6:45-52
45 Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 After saying farewell to them, he went up on the mountain to pray. 47When evening came, the boat was out on the lake, and he was alone on the land. 48 When he saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the lake. He intended to pass them by. 49 But when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; 50 for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’ 51 Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, 52 for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.
‘And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.’ Ominous words at this point in the Gospel. They challenge us readers to examine our understanding of the miracle of feeding the 5000. It’s important to do so since this is the only miracle, barring the resurrection, that appears in all four Gospels, suggesting how vital it is to our understanding of Jesus and the good news, the gospel. On two occasions, including in the passage today, the disciples’ misunderstanding about Jesus is traced back to their failure to understand the significance of providing abundantly for the crowd (see also Mk 8:17-21). It seems the Evangelists regarded the feeding of the 5000 critical for understanding Jesus. I wonder how many of us would have rated it very high on a scale of ‘greatest’ miracles. I’m not sure I would have.
If the disciples had understood the feeding of the 5000, their aloneness on a dark night and stormy sea, encountering Jesus walking on water and calming the storm (for a 2nd time) would not have astounded them. What were they supposed to have understood and didn’t? More importantly, what are we supposed to understand now?
There are a few things that can aid our reflection and lead to understanding. First, Jesus deliberately sent his disciples ahead into the storm while he remained alone to pray. Mark emphasizes the separation in his description: ‘When evening came, the boat was out on the lake, and he was alone on the land.’ He also notes that Jesus saw them struggling in the storm but ignored them until early morning (the King James states it was ‘the 4th watch’, which was 3 a.m.). Jesus saw the struggle but didn’t immediately jump in to rescue his disciples. He left them to struggle alone. Was that to give them time to process what had and hadn’t happened on land and understand Jesus’ mission?
Second, Jesus was trying to teach his disciples (albeit, up until now, not very successfully) to better understand who he was and what he came to do. The first half of Mark is devoted to proving Mark’s claim (made in 1:1) that Jesus is the Christ (Messiah). This focus on Messiah comes to a climax in chapter 8. The disciples’ concept of Messiah was more like the popular view of a warrior-king come to rid the nation of the Roman oppressor and set Israel free. It wasn’t uncommon for rebel leaders to gather a crowd in a wilderness area, such as the one Jesus was in when he fed the crowd. Perhaps this got the disciples’ hopes up that Jesus, at last, would talk about a campaign against Rome. And then, when evening came, Jesus shattered their hopes, sending them back to the cities on the other side. Instead of rallying the troops and starting a violent revolution, Jesus went off alone to pray. They discovered Messiah didn’t come to do what they wanted; he couldn’t be forced into their mold. His mission (think revolution) was far broader in scope, inclusive of all nations and non-violent.
The lesson for us today? It’s so easy to get Jesus wrong and assume that he agrees with our agendas, including our political ones. When we do, if we’re observant, we’ll realize that Jesus has sent us ahead, without him, giving us much needed time to reflect on and improve our understanding of Jesus and his mission; time to name and give up our false pictures and selfish agendas whatever the cost to our comfort; time and space to hear Jesus say, ‘Take heart, it is I.’
Do you understand about the loaves or has your heart been hardened?
Take Jesus’ words, ‘Take heart, it is I,’ to heart and into the places you go today.
Respond to Jesus in prayer
It’s so easy, Lord Jesus, to get you wrong and assume you’re what I want. Let me hear your words again and again today, ‘Take heart, it is I.’ And may I not be afraid. Amen.
Go and live obediently in the world where Jesus calms our fears.