Discerning Church Learning to discern the movement of God's Spirit

Failing to Understand

We are all familiar with the infamous story of Jesus feeding the large crowd with only five loaves of bread and two fish.

(Mark 6:41–44 NIV) 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 set before 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.

The disciples must have been overwhelmed by such a display of power. Yet as we will read, they fail to full comprehend Jesus’ identify. Jesus soon dismisses his disciples and the crowd. He retreats to a mountainside to pray. The disciples are in a boat heading across the Sea of Galilee toward Bethsaida. You might already remember what happens next. While the disciples are in the middle of the lake, Jesus is taking a walk across the lake. He is walking on the water.

(Mark 6:48–50 NIV) He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, 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.

They are freaked out. They just saw him miraculously feed over five thousand. At the same time, they are failing to fully understand who Jesus is. Look at how Mark records it.

(Mark 6:50–52 NIV) 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, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.

The disciples are described as lian existanto. These words are translated in the NIV as completely amazed. The first word (lian) is sometimes translated as greatly or exceedingly. The second word (existanto) is rendered in the NIV as amazed. It is sometimes translated as astonished or even confused. The Greek lexicon defines the word

to be so astonished as to almost fail to comprehend what one has experienced (Louw and Nida)

Mark tells us that they were astonished to the point of even being able to understand what was happening. And then he adds this.

(Mark 6:52 NIV) for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.

I find this intriguing. Even though they were witnessing incredible movements of God, they did not get it. To give them the benefit of the doubt, it was a lot to take in. At the same time, we need to be aware that our hearts are sometimes hardened to God’s movement among us. Jesus later questions the disciples about the feeding.

(Mark 8:18–21 NIV) Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” “Twelve,” they replied. “And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” They answered, “Seven.” He said to them, “Do you still not understand?”

They had a hard time discerning God’s movement among them. Jesus describes them as having eyes and ears but failing to see and hear. He points them back to their earlier experience. As we discern the movement of God among us, we are going to miss it sometimes. We often fail to grasp all that God is doing. Yet as we reflect on our past experiences, it sometimes becomes clear. May God give us eyes to see and ears to hear as we discern his working among us. May we be careful to reflect on our experiences as we discern direction. We must remember that we will not always catch on the first time around.