Today we’re looking at a short story from Mark’s gospel. One that’s seemingly unimportant. In fact, it’s one of the few bits of Mark’s Gospel that doesn’t occur in either Matthew or Luke. Both of them copied large slabs of Mark’s Gospel (these days they’d get in trouble for plagiarism.) Yet neither of them found room for this short story that’s only five verses long. Why?
Maybe it’s because it’s a bit of a strange story. Let’s face it, it’s not one of Jesus’ best moments. Not really one for the highlights reel, especially considering the spectacular stories that surround it. Let’s read it now:Mark 8:22-26 They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?” He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.” Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Jesus sent him home, saying, “Don’t even go into the village.”
Yeah, don’t go back to the village. Let’s just keep this one to ourselves, hey? What’s going on here? Is Jesus having a bad healing day? Does he need a second chance? Is this the divine equivalent of backyard cricket rules: you can’t get out first ball?
Perhaps that’s why Matthew and Mark left this one out. They did that sometimes with the more embarrassing stories about the disciples, so maybe they’re trying to protect Jesus’ image too. Who knows.
But Mark seems to have a reason for including this story. Although it’s not immediately obvious. But maybe if we look at where this slightly strange story is placed – maybe that’ll help us understand what it’s all about. (And that task will take us all week!)
The clueless disciples
Let’s backtrack and see what’s been happening up until this point. Back to chapter 6, to see a more well-known story:6:34-44 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things. By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” But he answered, “You give them something to eat.” They said to him, “That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?” “How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.” When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.” Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.
Now although this is a powerful story in its own right, here in chapter 6 of Mark’s Gospel it seems to be ‘setting up’ the disciples for what follows. ‘Cause even if they’d somehow managed to forget all the healing miracles Jesus had done up to this point, here’s incontrovertible proof that Jesus has authority over this world. Five thousand people fed from a handful of food – surely this would have them believe that he was the Son of God!
But in the very next story they seem to have forgotten this lesson:Mk 6:45-52 Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray. 47 Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. 48 He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, 49 but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, 50 because they all saw him and were terrified. Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” 51 Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, 52 for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.
Despite having seen the miracle – the feeding of the five thousand miracle – they were still freaked out at the thought of Jesus walking on water. They were ‘completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened’. Despite having seen what Jesus had done, they didn’t understand its significance.
Now for us as readers, we’ve got the advantage of hindsight. Right at the start of his Gospel, Mark calls it: ‘The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.’ The reader is left in no doubt as to who Mark believes Jesus to be. So we find ourselves reading Mark’s Gospel knowing more than the disciples; watching them try to grasp who he was, as they start to piece things together. And we’ll continue to do that tomorrow.
To think about
Firstly, what do you think is the point of the two-stage healing story? (Be thinking about this during the week.)
Secondly, are there times when you can be a bit like the disciples (despite the benefit of hindsight) – forgetting who it is you’re following? Take time today to remind yourself that you belong to the one who can feed multitudes and walk on water.
If you have 13 minutes to spare, there’s a great drama that was performed about a decade ago at a Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit. It’s both hilarious and a poignant reminder of the power of Jesus. I’ve used it in class for many years as I own one of the few DVDs of it sold. But I’ve just for the first time found it on YouTube (with Dutch subtitles). Enjoy!
(It’s from a longer work called “Fish Eyes” by Ted & Lee, which is commercially available. However, this version was performed by the Willow Creek drama team, and I think their performance in front of a live audience is much funnier.)