Sunday 22 July 2018

Bible Book:

] were utterly astounded” (v. 52)

Mark 6:30-56 Sunday 22 July 2018

Psalm: Psalm 23


Teachers are encouraged to make continual use of formative assessment – finding out how the students are learning and being formed in order to shape and form the way the teaching can be adapted as the group goes along. The formative feedback of the disciples in Mark’s Gospel is not encouraging: “they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened” (v. 52). Are we looking on with hindsight and learning from their mistakes and confusions, or do we feel pretty much the same as they did? I can identify with both reactions myself, depending on the passage and the situation of my life at the time of reading.

In Mark chapter 6, the feeding of the 5,000 (verses 30-44) and the calming of the storm (verses 45-52) are interconnected opportunities for learning about Jesus, in the context of busy daily interactions with many people seeking his help. The disciples return from a successful mission (Mark 6:13) and Jesus encourages them to retreat for some rest (verse 31). This is disrupted by the crowd intercepting them, and Jesus himself demonstrates the tensions between personal rest and caring response when he puts the needs of the crowd ahead of those of his disciples. Perhaps we can hear their desire for the promised rest in the suggestion to send the crowd home (verses 35-36)? Jesus instead gives them responsibility for the needs of the crowd. It is as though through his actions, his instructions, and simply their obedience, that “all ate and were filled” (v. 42). Afterwards there are leftovers (verse 43) – a strange detail, which perhaps is a clue to what the disciples might understand, but are struggling to grasp.

Eventually, the disciples get away for some time on their own, on a boat, and Jesus, having said farewell to the crowd, also goes alone up the mountain to pray. It is helpful to note that the result of this prayer is a new meeting between teacher and disciples, and a new opportunity for learning. The disciples are struggling and Jesus comes to them over the water. They are confused and “terrified” (v. 50), and then with his reassurance, they are “utterly astounded” (v. 51) – but why? Not because he walked over the water and calmed the wind, but because they fail to understand about the loaves. It could be that they should have understood about the identity and power of Jesus from the miracle of the loaves, and so be unsurprised by him walking on water. It could be more subtle than this; the textual clues about the twelve baskets of leftovers are referenced by Jesus’ long-awaited explanation (Mark 8:18-21), bringing together the two feeding miracles and the different number of baskets leftover. It is possible to read Mark’s Gospel’s parallel feeding miracles of 5,000 in Jewish territory and 4,000 in Greek territory (Mark 8:19) as representing the sharing of the gospel with people of different language groups and cultures – though it is not completely clear that this is Jesus’ intention. Still, the question is left hanging in Mark 8:21: “Do you not yet understand?” To read Mark’s Gospel is to learn alongside the disciples – may our minds be open and our hearts not hardened as we are formed by Jesus our teacher.

To Ponder

  • What do you understand from these accounts of miracles?
  • What feelings do you share with the disciples?
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