Saturday, September 03, 2011

Mark 6

This morning I read the passage in Mark, the sixth chapter, where Jesus walks on the water. His disciples were struggling in the boat, trying just to keep above water, and when they see Jesus passing them, walking on the surface of the waves, their first thought is that it must be some sort of ghost or apparition.

The reason they think that, Mark tells us, is that their hearts here hardened. That's pretty shocking I think. These same disciples had just recently returned from their first experimental missionary journey, where they'd healed people and cast out demons in the name of Jesus. See, demons (demons!) were compelled to obey them just as they'd obeyed Jesus. How thrilling that must have been.

And then, no sooner do they get back from these missional excursions than they watch Jesus multiply a few loaves of bread and a few fish so as to feed thousands of hungry people. It's just after this that they find themselves nearly swamped in their little boat, crossing the Sea of Galilee in a little boat at night, without Jesus.

That "without Jesus" part is important. On another of their frequent crossings of this same lake, this time with Jesus on board, they had been similarly threatened by a sudden storm, and had seen Jesus (who'd been trying to sleep until the terrified disciples woke him up) command the wind and waves to be still.

 But see, the difference now is, Jesus is not with them. They'd left him behind, at his insistence, and now they are going down, with no one to save them this time. And their hearts are hardened.

These were ordinary men, these twelve. I don't think Judas, for example, was really all that different from Peter, and neither one of them was all that different from you and me. The Bible refers to hardness of heart as a kind of inability to believe in God or recognize him for whom he and what he is. Hardness of heart flickers in us like sheet lightning in the summer. I mean, it happens. We are prone to it.

And the evidence is right here, in this frail boat on a stormy sea, filled with 12 deeply distressed apostles ("sent ones"). How quickly our hearts go from soft to hard, from faith to cynicism. This Jesus, isn't he just the carpenter's son? This Jesus, maybe he does these magic tricks by the power of Beelzebul! Or this figure walking on the waves, it certainly looks like Jesus, but it must be a ghost. A sign of our impending deaths. We're going down!

The issue throughout Mark's account is just this issue of recognition.  Who is Jesus?  Do we recognize him for who he is.  Because if we don't, it's because of hardened hearts.

Jesus came to a hard-hearted world when it was almost too late and he said, let me show you what life will be like in the kingdom of God. It will be strikingly devoted to mercy, as I am. Here's let me show you once again that I have the power to save! And we see it, and then later, an hour later, or a day, under the influence of the latest distress, our hearts return to their familiar state of being.

We are not better men than the twelve. We are not braver or more faithful or more consistent. We are not, generally speaking, models of faith. Anyway, a model is essentially not what we need.  If that were so, the disciples would have had no problem at all.  What they needed, and what we need, is One who has the power to work in us from within.

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