Mark 6:52

for they had not understood about the loaves, their minds being slow to learn.


the half-life of a call
seems extraordinarily short
one moment flush with vision
only to find our heart hardened
repeated misunderstandings

a call without a manual
increases our tendency
to turn everything into yesterday
continuing former powers
past any previous benefit

what don’t we get
let us count the ways
unaccounted for abundance
exponential expectations
our reclamation


The loaves? In the midst of a dramatic windy, stormy sea we are to remember the loaves before we were summarily sent off and Jesus went away to pray?!

This gives pause to reflect on everything up to this point. Can you go back and tick off the journey to this point? If you check your memory against the text there is a good chance that the moments forgotten weren’t really understood.

Do you understand the gaps in your understanding as do some of the languages that don’t have an easy reference for a hardened heart (which is how most English translations spell out the import of having been “changed”)? “They have hard heads” (Trique), “Their ears do not have holes” (Shipibo), or “They do not have pain in their hearts” (Tzeltal). Bratcher216 goes on to note:

Hardened indicates primarily a state of being resulting from a process, not a specific process requiring identification of the particular agent. The Greek has reference to the condition of the hearts, not the process by which they become hardened.

A part of the reader’s task is to supply meaning to that which is being read. How might the hearts of the Twelve have come to be changed away from an understanding that leads to repentant change and follow where good news leads and, instead, result in simply being amazed and baffled? It is our unthinking projections that can help us identify where the missed insight is located.

Simply remembering Chapter 6 tracks us back to connectivity and partnership. Nazareth, an immersion laboratory, Herod and John, a good lab report, boat greeted by 5,000, wanting to send them away, and sent away themselves—hardened—not understanding hospitality. To miss the loaves is to miss compassion, partnership, and mutuality.

Mark 6:51

Then he got into the boat with them, and the wind dropped. The disciples were utterly amazed,


shift again
from passing by all else
to living in another’s space

such shifting
is proclaimer work
it’s face-to-face stupid

shifting lessons
keep us off-guard
mystified by our bafflement

shift teaching
introduces us to ourself
and tomorrow’s self

shift intentionally
choosing curiosity over
disappointed expectation


An important question is, “What happened that Jesus intended to pass by but ended up entering the boat?”

LaVerdiere183, seems certain about Mark’s intent:

Mark,… is telling two stories at once, that of Jesus with his disciples and that of the Lord with apostolic Church. His Gospel makes little or no effort to distinguish these two periods in our Christian origins. Rather, they interpenetrate one another…. The statement must have been especially meaningful to Mark’s early readers, many of whom may have felt that the Lord was passing them by, while in fact he was with them in the boat of the Church, but unrecognized.

This seems optimistic as we are in a post-fact, alt-fact, culture where

—Who can tell truth from falsehood any more?

I say it, and you feel it in your hearts:

no man or woman on this big small earth.

—How should our sages miss the mark of life,

and our most skillful players lose the game?

your hearts will tell you, as my heart has told me:

because all know, and no one understands.

(E.E. Cummings, “Santa Claus: A Morality”)

This may be why Matthew adds the story of inviting Peter into the storm. His first attention to walking with Jesus becomes drawn by the waves and he sinks. Peter’s being plucked from pre-creation waters is likely an encouraging connection with a scared reader.

Here, however, Jesus has sent the Twelve in one direction while he retreated in prayer. There is a storm, a ghostly Jesus, and a calming of the storm (as before). We are about to reenter a teaching mode with no further dramatics to catch our attention and distract us.

One way we can tell teaching, not action, is the order of the day is the bafflement of the Twelve—their response to teaching.

Mark 6:50

for all of them saw him, and were terrified. But Jesus at once spoke to them. “Courage!” he said,“it is I; do not be afraid!”


just then
in terrors midst
when crazy
disorients disorientation
driving us twice as far
into a foot-sucking slough

just then
a light-footed faun
shifts from tripping up
to topping up
relax WE ARE
no fear


Were the pond still, we can imagine a strong surface tension (perhaps enough to hold one up if feet were broad enough). But the waters are roiling. Anyone moving over the face of this deep goes beyond our understanding. The Twelve represent well our experience of G*D once we get beyond pat phrases and repeated praises. Terror, confusion, and trouble right here are all ways we know we are beyond awe and in a wilderness of testing.

Caught between wanting this apparition to pass by, which it seems was its intention, and wanting Jesus to step in, we are at sixes and sevens—an internal reflection of our external setting.

This trouble we are in traps us in our fear. From previous accounts of people being troubled, we might remember “angelic” visitations that offered an encouraging word, “Peace”. That same pronouncement is here in the form of the result of “Peace”—“Courage”. [Note: This is a two-way street. Peace gives courage to act. Courage to act brings peace.]

One of the questions is why a goodly many translations translate ἐγώ εἰμί (ego eimi, I am) as “It’s me”, when this same phrase in 13:6 and 14:62 has “I am”, G*D’s self-revelation to Moses in Exodus 3:14, “I am who I am”. This potential theophany scene stays in the ghostly here and now with the “weaker” (Aichele25), “It’s me” (which sounds more horrifying than calming in today’s post-Chucky context).

Even if the stronger language were here in English, any befuddled disciples initially responding as Moses did, there is an official end-bracketing of “I am” with an official word of “Peace”.

This strange scene in Mark doesn’t quite make it to a full blown appearance of G*D by a Human One. Nonetheless, “Courage” before a revelation of G*D and “Peace” after is a helpful model upon which we can see our life and lives bob, bob, bobbing along. Courage and Peace, here and elsewhere, are both singular and plural.

Mark 6:49

But, when they saw him walking on the water, they thought it was a ghost, and cried out;


a ghost
by any other name
frightens

unexplained healings
what were those feedings
shock

in their moments
we got caught up
awed

delayed PTSD
sees another anomaly
freak

struggling sailors
know long odds
improbable

in the end
a keening scream
abandoned


Exhausted by being tortured by rowing against an overwhelming storm at sea, it is easy to have our thinking get out of whack. In a small fashion my bicycling from Madison, WI to Boston, MA brought an exhausted time when thinking went backward and a prayer went up that the trees would stop waving so the wind would stop.

On a proverbially “dark and stormy night”, while worn down with water in every eye from exertion (salty) and rain and spray, any form takes on more than itself. Recognition of a dear friend can be glimpsed in many a crowd by just one characteristic or discounted in a location where they would be least expected to be present.

Apparently, still, one person’s intention is not clear to others. An intent to pass by appears false. There! That! It’s still coming closer. What are we going to do? And the closer it comes the more prepared we are to do the only recourse we have—scream for help! Even if there is no Coast Guard, we scream.

Regardless of how many rational explanations and extended midrashes as we come up with, we are probably dealing more with a revelatory story than an accurate accounting that can withstand every speculation thrown against it.

When we are caught in the throws of danger or concentration we are vulnerable to early tapes overwhelming our later learnings. Herod killed John. This storm is about to do us in. Here comes a demon we don’t recognize. The world is falling apart. Our acts of centering are failing us. The times are higgledy-piggledy. A Son of G*D won’t make it against the Romans. How can we click our heels together or knock the dust off our feet in this inhospitable situation?

Mark 6:48

Seeing them laboring at the oars – for the wind was against them – about three hours after midnight Jesus came towards them, walking on the water, intending to join them.


a wind block
raises frustration
exhausts energy
traps thinking

what else can be done
we might as well
sail into wet concrete
that sets around us

stuck just stuck
whether too much headwind
or too large a drag
just stuck stuck

trapped in persistence
an option to retreat
in place
passes us by

so caught
even our own
lives
pass by


To see in the dark at the designated distance would indicate sight beyond the usual human range—telescopic and infrared.

Of course there is sight beyond visual stimuli. One of the unappreciated aspects of prayer is its connection with aboriginal Dreamtime, astral projection, particle entanglement, and any number of additional extra-sensory connections that can extend for untold distances.

However one goes about understanding this scene, we are on notice that something spooky is going on.

Our lives are very easily stuck with all our energy going into rowing against whatever force is blocking our progress. We are forever trying to find ways around, under, or over an opposing wind.

Finally, between 3:00 to 6:00 A.M., Jesus wanders out to see what is going on. Finding a normal human situation, our best efforts coming to naught, Jesus appears to simply pass by.

καὶ ἤθελεν παρελθεῖν αὐτούς (kai ēthelen paralthein autous, pass them by) is unique to Mark and is difficult. —“It can reasonably be translated by ‘began to pass by them’ or ‘made as though he would pass by them.’ Equally, the verb without a direct object can be rendered ‘join,’ ‘come to…’ Why Jesus would have passed them by we cannot know. We can only record the tradition.” [Mann305]

Of course readers are not limited by a tradition of a deus ex machine, a yellow submarine, or other way to avoid being stymied.

Mark 6:47

When evening fell, the boat was out in the middle of the sea, and Jesus on the shore alone.


in this time
it is becalmed evening
in dreamtime
tomorrow comes visiting

both continue
in realms separately joined
both reveal the other
foreground background

we soften our gaze
to move from a day’s passing
and focus our attention
to move toward unexplored joy


With Bethsaida around the corner, why was the boat in the middle of the lake? Perhaps their deserted place wasn’t where we thought it was. Mark’s sense of geography is less than helpful to those with a sense of the lay of the land.

With location being metaphorical, the middle of the lake is the equivalent of up a river with no paddle or another difficult time. Time, along with space, can also be suggestive rather than accurate in regard to some recognized standard. As “darkness comes” is time’s way of indicating every experience of uncertainty.

It is important to ask about prayer at this point. Jesus is off to do it. What manner of prayers did the Twelve employ as they entered the boat? What about entering evening on the water? Or when things get dicey a bit later? Where is prayer all along the way?

Communal prayers are as needed as prayers when one is alone. Communal prayers are more difficult to put together or pause to listen to.

We’ve heard this story before. We remember a directly similar scene from another night on the Lake. We can also begin to hear similarities beyond a boat after Dark. Three disciples are invited to travel up a mountain to witness a transfiguration. We won’t be overly surprised to also hear connections with another transformation; this time with Twelve on a lake.

Whether Jesus is along or not, there is an adventure around every corner that will ask us to push beyond our latest engagement with ourselves, the world around, or a partnership beyond all reason.

One of the places we need to wrestle a bit is with the relationship between Jesus praying and the Twelve on the move. Enjoy these theodicy questions: Does Jesus pray for a storm for the Twelve to learn from? If not, was Jesus lax in praying for safety for others?

Mark 6:46

After he had taken leave of the people, he went away up the hill to pray.


another mountain
another prayer

a dead sea
a death valley
sahara gobi

everywhere we be
mountain top possibilities
rise from no-where
to view every-where

first we say goodbye
fasting from relationships
commencing a vision quest

settling one stage further
up a seven-storied life


With Mark readers can’t escape ambiguity. The good-bye mentioned here can be a mild bidding of farewell, a bit stronger taking leave, and an even stronger, “get rid of”. Of course we have our images of Jesus that have built over the millennia that project all manner of manners upon this human one. The reader will make of it what they will.

Regardless of the style of parting, there is also a live question as to whether the “them” mentioned refers to the Twelve or the Crowd. Here, again, the reader has a choice to make as the style may be different depending upon to whom a good-bye is directed.

Jesus regularly prays in a variety of places. Jesus’ first time away in Mark is to a desert for testing, which shapes one’s prayer [1:12–13]; when a whole town gathered he sought out a deserted place for prayer which led to expanding his range [1:35]; having gone to a shoreline (to pray?), a crowd gathered and Levi was called [2:13–14]; a mountain was ascended and resulted in the Twelve being called up and appointed [3:13]; later, upon a mountain, a transfiguration [9:2ff.], and coming down will be a prayerful exorcism [9:14ff.]; even on a road, Jesus can get out ahead (praying?) ]10:32]; perhaps as a surprise we can imagine Jesus looking for prayer in the Temple [11:11] and returning later to insist upon it; prayer goes on within a garden of olive trees in the context of a sleeping triumvirate [14:32ff.]; prayer may be particularly present with a cone of silence in the midst of a trial [15:5]; a prayer continued in the presence of crucifixion pain [15:34] and concluded in a tomb [16:6].

Prayer by prayer, the story of the beginning of good news shifts forward and calls for a revisiting and applying. The first testing in the desert sets the rest in motion. When able to pray and thus retreat in the face of wilderness testing, either wild or ordinary, life is full.

Mark 6:45

Immediately afterward Jesus made his disciples get into the boat, and cross over in advance, in the direction of Bethsaida, while he himself was dismissing the crowd.


a crowd a flock
is like any other
and also not

individuals writ large
conflicted dissonance
commonly denominated

awaiting a hive-mind
searching for a shepherd
ready but inept

received and taught
exercised and fed
eventually dismissed

dandelion seeds
blown into tomorrow
a shepherd’s decision

a time to gather
a time to scatter
turn and turn again


With people fed, there comes an urgency to be off on another adventure.

Did Peter have the Boatswain’s Call and pipe “Still”, Jesus gave instructions, and Peter then piped, “Carry On”? If not this organized, how do you envision Jesus urging, commanding, compelling the Twelve back into the boat?

Presumably the Twelve were still in an oppositional mode or they wouldn’t need to be sent off without Jesus’ presence—remember what happened the last time Jesus wasn’t with them (going to sleep is practically being gone)? Sailors and fisher folk have their own superstitions and it doesn’t take much to spook them. If Good Luck Charm Jesus wasn’t going to be with them to see them through a difficulty, their wariness quotient rises.

Mark is not all that helpful with his geographical references. They seem to be more metaphorical than cartographically precise. It appears that Bethsaida is just around the corner and so it shouldn’t be a long journey or one requiring to get out into Lake Galilee very far. When we remember the crowd arriving ahead of the crew, it might be that Jesus just needed to stretch his legs, Prayer Jog to Bethsaida, and arrive ahead of the Twelve.

At any rate, the boat was launched.

In anticipation of Jesus having the moment of respite that was needed by both himself and the Twelve as they reported on their commissioned work, Jesus turns to bless the crowd on their way. This may well have been a traditional blessing that signified the end of this teaching and feeding time. It may have been something short, “Bye, Bye!” or crafted for the occasion, “You’re full to overflowing, so overflow into other’s lives that together your hearts might be changed.”

Mark 6:44

The people who ate the bread were five thousand in number.


at first a crowd
everyone out for their own
now they and their hairs
are numbered
one by one by one
and met in fifties
hundreds and thousands
with a new commonness
beyond individual need

it was the teaching
that caught us off-guard
when we came for the healing
stayed for an announcement
deepening within us
connecting hope to action

we still don’t get
how to organize
heaven on earth

but we do know when is now


At the end of this story we hear of 5,000 being fed without an expression of astonishment.

Those present may not have known a feat of food multiplication or cloning had gone on. The Twelve wanting to send folks away but instructed to find what was available to feed the crowd, may well have stopped after finding 5 loaves and 2 fish with an expectation that surely Jesus would now send the busybodies away.

Even Jesus’ looking prayerful wouldn’t signal anything out of the ordinary. Perhaps a simple blessing was heard, “Barukh Attah Adonai, sower of seed and harvester of bread.” So ordinary as to not draw attention but live within expectation.

While the Greek is clearly about 5,000 males, there is no need for the reader to limit those who shared in the bounty to men only. It may even be more helpful to use this ending as a palin for the last feasting/feeding we heard about. Herod’s formal feast of powerful people ended in the death of 1, John. This feeding of a powerless crowd of people feeling their need, ends in the filling or revival of 5,000.

Thus ends a cycle:

• Twelve commissioned and reliant upon hospitality

• Herod Feasting, Salome Dancing, John Dying

• Twelve report on their work

• Jesus Insisting, Twelve Gathering, 5,000 Feeding

Seen in alteration, we find a reviving of exhausted people as a sign contrary to dissipation, foolishness, and murder. Only feeding three people (Elijah, a widow, and a widow’s son) would do as a sign. Feeding 5,000 is hospitality writ large; a harvest of great abundance.

Mark 6:43

and they picked up enough broken pieces to fill twelve baskets, as well as some of the fish.


did you know
the disciple’s nickname
     baskets

they were basket cases
until called
to hold learning

and a tisket a tasket
pulled out treasures
along the way

continually retreating
to everyday provisions
leftovers supreme


As captivating as large numbers are—this throng grouped into 50s and 100s or later reports of at least 5,000 and 4,000 people—it is the smaller number of 12 that intrigues.

There are obvious connections with Twelve Followers and Twelve Tribes. In the context of this story, 12 is excess value. There is enough and more. Whether Followers or Tribes, they are excess value oriented. If they are not a blessing for others, they might as well not be taking up space or wasting time.

I remember this in my latest regular blessing:

Mercy and Joy abound

take Plenty

and More to Pass Around

After reporting the gift of living in expectation of hospitality and a trust there will be enough, the Twelve had suddenly, urgently, come away without time to eat and, presumably, without provisions. The bread and fish they finally found among those in the crowd who were hospitable enough to share, became bread seed and fish seed multiplied 30, 60, and 100 times—a living parable. Such excess was evidenced by an extra basketful of plenty to pass on to people as they were blessed on their way to a next day—“Plant this bread seed and fish seed in the lives of those you meet.”

The bread and fish that came from the crowd for the crowd, Twelve, and Jesus grew to be sufficient to distribute to at least one degree more of separation (those the crowd will next meet). Presumably excess value will continue to echo and generate additional seed.

This well-graced event has overtones of what we have come to know as the Eucharist or Communion (a ritual worthy of a capital letter). The reader will need to wrestle with a tension of whether their experience of such a Bountiful Feast, Grace, or Dayenu is of the everyday or lives only within an authorized liturgical structure. This calls for reflection on the fullness of whatever size “basket” is our life.