Their Hearts Were Hardened


Have you ever tried to imagine yourself in one of the scenes of the Gospels? There are two scenes that follow hard upon each other in Mark’s Gospel account that I have always found stunning. They are stunning for what happens in them, but even more so for the reason that the disciples, who were there and witnessed them first hand, seem to have missed the point of their significance. This has always filled me with the wonderment. Why don’t the disciples get it? Then again, how many times have I missed the point of an experience and been stunned by it later on in a completely different context. It’s that experience we’ve all had when the light of insight goes on and we say to ourselves, ʺWell, dah! Why didn’t I see that before?ʺ
The two incidents I am thinking about are the great event where Jesus feeds the 5,000 with just five loaves and two fishes, and the following scene in Mark’s Gospel when the disciples see him walking toward them on the wind-whipped lake, and they think he is a ghost. ʺThey cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified. Immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’ Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. (Mark 6:48-51)

The fact is that we are surrounded by miracles every day, but, like the disciples, we miss most of them because we are not paying attention. We are too focused on our own immediate fears, needs, and desires. Every now and then, though, the hyper-reality of miracle reveals itself to us and we are just as ʺamazedʺ as the disciples were when they saw a figure walking toward them on the water. ʺThey were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.ʺ (Mark 6:51-52)

I remember, for example, meeting a former college professor of mine at a house party several years after I had graduated. In the course of our conversation, he revealed to me that he had had a severe nervous breakdown a couple of years after I had taken his courses. He told me of the long, difficult road to recovery he had been on. Then he related a story to me about an event he had experienced that was the turning point in his recovery. He said he had been walking around Green Lake, a large lake park in the middle of the city of Seattle, early one spring morning. He said the air was fresh and crisp, and bright with the early morning sun. There was a delicate breath of steam rising off the lake surface and the birds were singing with spring enthusiasm all around him. The hundreds of flowering fruit trees around the lake were in full bloom and the air was redolent with their scent. He said that, all of a sudden, he became filled with a sense of immense awe. He felt as if he was in the presence of God, as if God was saying to him, ʺLook! See how beautiful it is.ʺ He said it was if he had been struck by awe. He took in a sudden deep breath and felt a profound sense of peace wash over him and he heard himself say out loud, ʺI’m going to be OK.ʺ He said to me, ʺIt was like a miracle.ʺ

Yes, a miracle. Of that I have no doubt. But the real surprise is that we walk in the presence of miracle every day. God is present in every moment, in every place. It’s just that sometimes something happens and we suddenly see what’s been before us all the time. We ʺsee,ʺ as if for the first time. The truth is that Jesus is feeding us and walking towards us on the water all the time. ʺTake courage! It is I. Do not be afraid.ʺ Lord, give us the grace to be awake all the time. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.
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