Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.
You’d think that by now they’d begin to get it. The disciples about Jesus, I mean. Okay, so they saw Jesus walking on water and freaked out. But once he’s in the boat, are they really stunned that he can calm the sea? I mean, goodness, but he’s done that once already.
Mark makes an interesting move at this point. He ties their lack of understanding to two things. First, he says they didn’t understand about the loaves. What does that mean? I’m not sure, but I suspect that it hints at their inability to recognize Jesus’ command over the elements. Maybe they thought, as plenty of post-Enlightenment thinkers have argued, that the real “miracle” of the feeding was that everyone stopped hoarding what they’d brought and shared with their neighbor. Or perhaps they didn’t understand that in Jesus’ presence abundance and order is the norm, not the exception. Whatever it is, Mark says they did not understand.
He also says, though, that their hearts were hardened. But hardened against what? Again, we can’t say for sure. But I have a hunch it’s against the sheer possibility that Jesus represents. Perhaps they figure that some things are just the way they are, and there’s nothing you can do about it. When there’s not enough food, there’s just not enough. When the wind is blowing the wrong way, there’s no going against it. When you walk onto water, you sink. How do we know? Because it’s always been this way and always will.
Except that when Jesus is around it’s not. When Jesus is around anything can happen…and often does. That’s got to be a little unnerving. The sheer possibility that Jesus represents unsettles things, shakes things up, makes you wonder what you can count on. And given that the disciples, probably no less than we, liked some measure of stability, some modicum of control over their world – or at least some sense they could count on the laws of the world as they understood them holding true – they may have found all the haywire and unpredictable events that happened with Jesus a little too much to handle.
And so they hardened their hearts to the extraordinary and hugged the mundane. They refused to see the miraculous and clung to the predictable. Safer that way.
But, oh, how limiting, boring, and ultimately deadening.
Prayer: Dear God, open our eyes and awaken our hearts to the unpredictable, surprising, and downright unsettling character of your grace and mercy. Shake us to the core with your radical love, even when we think we don’t want it. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Post image: “Jesus Walking on Water” by Celeste Nagy.