I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the gospel writers seem to be very intentional with how they frame and order their stories about Jesus. I’m not saying they embellished or made any of them up. But the stories often seem to be grouped together for a purpose. They are definitely trying to make a point.
In Mark 6 we read two stories back to back that I had never connected until recently. Mark 6:30-44 tells the “Feeding of the 5,000” and 6:45-56 tells about Jesus’ walking on the water. The miraculous feeding is one of the few stories told in all four gospels, and Jesus walking on water is one of the few stories recorded by Mark, Matthew, and John but not Luke.
So what I’m saying is that these stories are a big deal. They are important, and we should pay attention.
Jesus and his disciples were out in the middle of nowhere with a huge crowd. Thousands had gathered to hear Jesus teach and maybe witness a miracle. (Side note: putting all the accounts together reveals some interesting details – there were 5,000 men specifically; they were organized somewhat in groups of 100s and 50s; and after the miraculous feeding, they wanted to make Jesus their KING by force. Sounds like Jesus literally fed a makeshift army/militia.)
They can’t send thousands of men into the surrounding villages for dinner – they would literally eat them out of business. And they don’t have enough money to buy food for them all – it would take “half a year’s wages.” Even in today’s economy that estimate holds up. Half the average yearly salary would be roughly $20,000 – enough to spend $4/person for a meal. Not gonna happen.
So Jesus asked them what they had – only 5 loaves of bread and two fish in some boy’s sack lunch. They brought it to him, he thanked God and broke the bread, then they handed out fish sandwiches for everyone to eat their fill and then some. They ended up with 12 basketfuls of leftovers. Very impressive.
Right after that, Jesus sends his disciples on ahead of him across the lake while he dismissed the crowd and found a quiet place to pray for a while. If I were one of the disciples I would wonder how Jesus planned to join back up with us since we were taking all the boats… But they did as he told them to and set sail.
Later that night they’re still out in the middle of the lake struggling to make any headway. I absolutely LOVE how Mark tells the story:
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…
They had been at it all night, they were tired and struggling. He saw them, and he walked out to them on the lake. But did you catch what Mark said? Jesus didn’t intend to stop for them. He was going to PASS THEM BY! (insert laughing emoji here)
I think that’s hilarious. Jesus had an awesome sense of humor.
The disciples didn’t think it was so funny, though… They screamed out and thought it was a ghost. What other explanation could there be for a figure moving across the top of the water in the middle of the lake in the darkest part of the night??
…but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They 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. They were completely amazed…
Hey guys, it’s just me. Chill out. How much longer are the disciples going to be afraid of Jesus?
Mark doesn’t include the bit about Peter walking on the water toward Jesus. According to tradition, Mark is actually writing down the memoirs of Peter, so a lot of the stories are from his perspective. If I were Peter, I don’t know that I would want the world knowing that I almost drowned while getting my one chance to walk on water. He may have just edited that out for his own sake…but regardless it remains an amazing story.
But why are these two stories connected? Jesus feeds 5,000 and then walks across the water. Why would these things happen back to back?
I think there’s a big clue in the next lines:
They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.
What had they not understood about the loaves?
Can you think of another time in Scripture when a large group of people were fed miraculously with bread and meat in the wilderness? Think back to Exodus 16. The children of Israel had just been set free from slavery by the powerful hand of God working through Moses. They’re out of Egypt and making their way through the desert – but how is an entire nation of people supposed to eat in the wilderness? Every day God sent manna and quail from heaven to feed and sustain the Israelites. They were not supposed to take any extra or have any leftover, except on Fridays in preparation for the Sabbath. Jesus miraculously fed 5,000 Israelite men in the wilderness with bread and meat, and there were 12 baskets worth of leftovers.
We don’t have to strain so hard to make the connection. Jesus makes the connection himself in John’s gospel. Right after the miracle, Jesus says this:
“Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
What is it about the loaves that should have helped them understand the “walking on water” miracle?
Can you think of another time in Scripture when water acted strangely and allowed people to walk across a large body of water? Again – look back at the Exodus story. When the Israelites left Egypt they came right against the Red Sea. They couldn’t go around, and they didn’t have the boats to sail everyone across. So God, through Moses, parted the sea so that the Israelites could get to the other side on dry ground. But now instead of parting the water, Jesus just walks across the top of the water as if on solid ground.
The disciples were afraid, and they hadn’t understood about the loaves “because their hearts were hardened.” That’s the same exact language used to describe Pharaoh in Exodus. For instance:
But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the Lord had said.
So what does this mean?
If the main question in the gospel of Mark is “Who is Jesus?” then every story points to an answer. Here in Mark 6, these two stories tell us that Jesus is the new Moses. Jesus is initiating a new Exodus, but it’s not an escape from slavery from under the hand of Rome like many were expecting. This Exodus would be a deliverance from the bondage of sin and death.
Jesus is the new Moses, and he is initiating the new Exodus. The disciples’ hearts were hardened like Pharaoh’s. The only question remaining is, will we harden our hearts, too?