45 Right then, Jesus made his disciples get into a boat and go ahead to the other side of the lake, toward Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 After saying good-bye to them, Jesus went up onto a mountain to pray. 47 Evening came and the boat was in the middle of the lake, but he was alone on the land. 48 He saw his disciples struggling. They were trying to row forward, but the wind was blowing against them. Very early in the morning, he came to them, walking on the lake. He intended to pass by them. 49 When they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost and they screamed.50 Seeing him was terrifying to all of them. Just then he spoke to them, “Be encouraged! It’s me. Don’t be afraid.” 51 He got into the boat, and the wind settled down. His disciples were so baffled they were beside themselves. 52 That’s because they hadn’t understood about the loaves. Their hearts had been changed so that they resisted God’s ways. Mark 6:45-52, CEB
A few verses before these, Jesus broke a small amount of bread into enough pieces to feed five thousand people. That act was a sign of God’s kingdom breaking into the world through Jesus. The disciples noticed that a miracle happened, to be sure, but according to these verses, they didn’t grasp the significance. They didn’t connect the action of the miracle to God and his desire to restore creation. Again, that’s understandable, it’s a pretty huge leap to make. But their inability to see and understand caused problems for them down the road. They couldn’t see God at work in the feeding story, and they can’t recognize God’s presence in Jesus as he walks on the water. What does this lead to? Bewilderment.
God’s presence truly is rather bewildering. When we see it or experience it, it’s hard to come up with a proper explanation. Sometimes things can be explained, and sometimes they can’t. Sometimes they are simply acts of God. Skepticism, in our day, is extremely popular. Some skepticism is a good thing. Too much, perhaps, leads to a certain hardness of the heart. Do we have some responsibility for the ways in which we fail to recognize God’s action or see him at work? Possibly so, as the disciples themselves experienced a hardness of heart (though it’s unclear who caused this or exactly why it happened).
As I read these verses, I’m increasingly aware of the ways in which my own heart has hardened and my own role in that. I’m extremely skeptical both of supernatural/mystical encounters of God in addition to the motivations of churches and faith communities in general. I suppose, in a sense, this makes me skeptical of God himself and his presence. In this way, my heart is hard. I don’t want to be that way. It’s gotten better over time. I think of the verse in Mark 9 where Jesus says, “Whoever isn’t against us is for us.” I have a hard time telling who is for God or against God. I suppose I should be less judgmental, then. I trust my own judgment too much, and my heart is hard because of it. Like the disciples, I need to remove the blinders and try to open my mind to God’s presence around me.