“Then he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. They were completely astounded, because they had not understood about the loaves. Instead, their hearts were hardened” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Have you ever been through an experience you simply didn’t understand? There are a couple of ways we respond to times like those. The first is to let the lack of understanding build within us a sense of curiosity wherein we go on some kind of a journey to gain a better grasp of what happened and why. The second response is to lean into the lack of understanding and turn ourselves away from the experience. We don’t want to try and understand it, we just want to put some distance between ourselves and it. Of these two responses, exactly which one we choose depends on a whole variety of factors. Generally, though, the more profound our lack of understanding is, the more likely we are to lean into the second. That’s what we see happening with the disciples here. Let’s dig into their reaction a bit and see what it might have to do with us.
You have to give the disciples here at least a little bit of credit. Living with Jesus had to keep them right at the edge of wonder-overload almost all the time. No one did and said the kinds of things Jesus did and said. There simply was not a category for Jesus. He was something new. Encountering something for which we do not have a category can be challenging. Encountering a whole string of things for which we do not have a category can leave us shocked almost beyond the ability to function. This is where the disciples were as Jesus got into the boat with them after walking out to them on the water.
The translation I use (the Christian Standard Bible) describes their reaction as “completely astounded.” That’s a pretty fair translation of the operative Greek words here. If anything, though, the translators could have used even stronger language and still been within the lexical range of the words. The word translated “astounded” is the Greek word existanto from the root word existami (the a there is long). It describes the sense of being so overwhelmed by something that you are almost out of your mind from shock and astonishment. The word translated “completely” is the Greek word perissou which is a way of expressing something to the highest degree possible. In other words, the sum total of this is that the disciples were beyond out of their minds from shock. They simply didn’t know what to make of what they had seen and heard.
And again, can you blame them? In the last few hours they had returned from the profound experience of their missionary journeys. They’d tried to get away with Jesus to have some quiet time together to debrief their adventures. They had been greeted upon their arrival by a crowd of thousands upon thousands of people. They had watched as Jesus had taken a few loaves and fish and inexplicably multiplied them exponentially until everyone had received more than enough to eat. Then, before they even had the chance to digest that, Jesus sent them back in the boat to the other side of the lake. This trip had not been the leisurely float they needed to have, but left them rowing hard all night against the wind. It was dark and stressful and they were exhausted. Then, when they were about spent from exhaustion, Jesus comes walking up to them on the water. Yes, He quickly revealed Himself and urged them to not fear, but those words had to ring pretty hollow. Maybe they weren’t afraid any longer, but that didn’t change the fact that they were facing an existential crisis. They didn’t know what was what any longer. Nothing in their world was making sense anymore. They were going through the motions on autopilot, but nothing was processing anymore. They couldn’t. The shock was too overwhelming.
Mark notes they reacted like this because they hadn’t understood about the loaves. Jesus’ feeding of the enormous crowd was intended to be a sign of His divinity. He provided miraculous bread for the children of Israel like God the Father had provided manna in the wilderness. He went above and beyond this, though, and provided fish as well. Perhaps if the disciples had experienced all of that when they were fresh they may have picked up on the signs and symbolism of it all. But they weren’t fresh to start with. It didn’t click. This next thing then, just pushed them over the edge.
They could have leaned into the wonder and tried to understand, but they were beyond the ability to do that. Their hearts were hardened. This hardening wasn’t in the sense that they quit believing in Jesus altogether. Rather, they quit trying to make sense of it. They turned away from it and just lived in that state of shock for a bit. They couldn’t do anything else.
Sometimes in our own lives, we experience so much that we can’t process anymore. Have you been there before? We’re in the midst of the season where the hits have come so hard and so fast that a lot of folks are living about where the disciples here were. COVID has transformed the world in ways that we will all be recovering from for quite some time. COVID-stress is a real thing. I just heard a story this morning about a man who had lost his wife to COVID a few months ago, had received his first vaccine shot, contracted COVID from someone at work who came in spite of a positive test because he was asymptomatic, and before he could get his second shot, died of COVID himself. I know of a local student who apparently had COVID at some point unbeknownst to his parents. The only reason they discovered it is because he is fighting for his life from the effects of MISC, a post-COVID condition that sometimes happens in children. I know of two families who have recently lost their fathers to COVID after having been in great health prior to getting it. The hits just keep coming. Eventually we hit our max load and can’t process anymore. We just go numb to the news and start drifting through life in a constant state of shock. Our shock isn’t the same as the disciples’ shock was, but the effects aren’t so different.
What are we supposed to do with this?
Well, true to form, Mark doesn’t give us any quick or easy answers. He just presents things as they were. What we can see, though, is what’s most important. It is the example we need to follow if we want to get through the shock and start living once again. So then, what was it they did that enabled them to keep moving forward? Mark doesn’t spell it out for us. We have to watch and see. We have to keep reading. We have to stay on the journey with them over the next couple of chapters to the point that Peter boldly and dramatically expresses his unwavering confidence that Jesus is the Messiah. And what brought them to that place? They just kept following Jesus.
When life gets hard and things don’t make sense, keep following Jesus. When the shock gets overwhelming and you’re not sure you can make it another step, keep following Jesus. When the world around you seems like it’s going crazy and there’s no real hope for change on the horizon, keep following Jesus. When you’re so tired from struggling through each day that you’re not sure you even want to get up this morning, keep following Jesus. Keep following Jesus. Keep following Jesus. The journey will not always be easy. Sometimes it will get hard. Sometimes it will leave your head spinning. Sometimes it’ll leave you almost immobilized with shock. But He is taking you on a path that will lead to eternal life. Not just forever life, but kingdom life. If you stick with Him, He will get you there. Keep following Jesus. He won’t leave you or forsake you. He’ll stay with you through the storms. He’ll put His arms around you when your deepest fears take form. If you trust Him, He’ll not fail you. He’s your anchor and your home. Just keep following Jesus and you’ll never be alone.