Now when evening came, the boat was in the middle of the sea; and He was alone on the land. Then He saw them straining at rowing, for the wind was against them. Now about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea, and would have passed them by. And when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw Him and were troubled. But immediately He talked with them and said to them, "Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid." Then He went up into the boat to them, and the wind ceased. And they were greatly amazed in themselves beyond measure, and marveled. For they had not understood about the loaves, because their heart was hardened.
When they had crossed over, they came to the land of Gennesaret and anchored there. And when they came out of the boat, immediately the people recognized Him, ran through that whole surrounding region, and began to carry about on beds those who were sick to wherever they heard He was. Wherever He entered, into villages, cities, or the country, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged Him that they might just touch the hem of His garment. And as many as touched Him were made well.
- Mark 6:47-56
Yesterday, we read that, after returning from their first mission, the apostles gathered to Jesus and told Him all things, both what they had done and what they had taught. And He said to them, "Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while." For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat. So they departed to a deserted place in the boat by themselves. But the multitudes saw them departing, and many knew Him and ran there on foot from all the cities. They arrived before them and came together to Him. And Jesus, when He came out, saw a great multitude and was moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd. So He began to teach them many things. When the day was now far spent, His disciples came to Him and said, "This is a deserted place, and already the hour is late. Send them away, that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy themselves bread; for they have nothing to eat." But He answered and said to them, "You give them something to eat." And they said to Him, "Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give them something to eat?" But He said to them, "How many loaves do you have? Go and see." And when they found out they said, "Five, and two fish." Then He commanded them to make them all sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in ranks, in hundreds and in fifties. And when He had taken the five loaves and the two fish, He looked up to heaven, blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to His disciples to set before them; and the two fish He divided among them all. So they all ate and were filled. And they took up twelve baskets full of fragments and of the fish. Now those who had eaten the loaves were about five thousand men. Immediately He made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while He sent the multitude away. And when He had sent them away, He departed to the mountain to pray.
Now when evening came, the boat was in the middle of the sea; and He was alone on the land. Then He saw them straining at rowing, for the wind was against them. Now about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea, and would have passed them by. And when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw Him and were troubled. But immediately He talked with them and said to them, "Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid." Then He went up into the boat to them, and the wind ceased. And they were greatly amazed in themselves beyond measure, and marveled. For they had not understood about the loaves, because their heart was hardened. The fourth watch of the night is about three o'clock in the morning. In another recent reading, as they were on a stormy sea, Jesus asked the disciples, "Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?" This time He's left them alone to cross the night sea by themselves, and they struggle against wind. His assurance gives us to understand His presence with us, and the message that is there, "Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid." Among the other astonishing things in today's reading, it may be perplexing to readers how the disciples fail to understand the divinity of Christ in the sign of the loaves in yesterday's reading, above. My study bible tells us that knowing Christ is a matter of the heart -- and not merely the intellect. When our hearts are illumined by faith in God, it says, then they are open to receive His presence and grace. In the ascetic writings of the Church, the heart is known as "the seat of knowledge." It is the center of who we are, where all comes together in our power of comprehension. A hardened heart is one that is both unfeeling and uncomprehending; compassion, for example, is also a form of understanding.
When they had crossed over, they came to the land of Gennesaret and anchored there. And when they came out of the boat, immediately the people recognized Him, ran through that whole surrounding region, and began to carry about on beds those who were sick to wherever they heard He was. Wherever He entered, into villages, cities, or the country, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged Him that they might just touch the hem of His garment. And as many as touched Him were made well. My study bible says that Christ permits miracles through touch in order to show that His very body is life-giving (see also the healing of the woman with the twelve-years blood flow, in this reading).
How do we understand things? Why is it that the disciples still fail to understand about the loaves? "Hard-heartedness" is a phrase that teaches us about what it means to truly comprehend, and it also teaches us about how we look at life. There are a number of ways in which we are capable of understanding things. There is the intellect, but there is also compassion. There is empathy. There is a kind of emotional understanding. Above, beyond, and in addition to these, there is a kind of perception of spiritual truth that gives us insight and discernment. A part of the understanding of the heart involves our capacity to see and dignify the "personhood" of others. Jesus tells the Pharisees, when they ask about easy divorce available to men under Mosaic Law, "Because of the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept" (Mark 10:5). In today's reading, this term is used to describe the disciples' unawareness of the evidence of Jesus' divinity in the sign of the multiplication of the loaves (see yesterday's reading). There is a level at which faith and the heart intertwine. Faith is an action of the heart, not only the intellect. Faith is a key component to comprehension of certain kinds. Jesus will frequently echo Isaiah (and numerous other Old Testament references) when He says, "For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them" (Matthew 13:15). In ascetic writings on prayer, the Orthodox tradition teaches that one should pray "with the mind in the heart." Even modern psychology increasingly tells us that the intellect alone is not enough involvement of the whole person for healing from trauma of many kinds, and the development of new techniques for addressing various types of trauma is an unstoppable trend, with many components and directions evolving from it. In today's reading, we're told that even Jesus' very body is life-giving; again, even the body stores intelligence and experience, and is a component in psychological healing. From its inception, the Church has taught that our bodies are inseparable from soul and spirit; the great evil of a "fleshly" perception is precisely that separation, a root of "hard-heartedness." The heart pulls all of this together, and becomes the place where God's love dwells, where grace is at work. Those whose faith has given them any form of healing can testify to the depths at which God's love works to reach us when nothing else can. That Twelve Step programs invoke reliance on a Higher Power is evidence of that. What all of this signals to us is that the depths at which our faith is at work will open up our understanding of ourselves as human beings -- more importantly, as persons. We are not merely intellectual beings propelling a body around as a kind of vehicle in the world. Rather, all of the varied aspects of how we are created, the gifts with which we are endowed, intelligence that works in myriad ways, gives us capacity for perception that teaches us how much more to our own lives and persons there is than a "worldly" perspective may allow for. This center of a person that pulls all of those things together is what is called the heart in Scripture. It is, perhaps most tellingly, the place where relationship and relatedness is truly centered -- which is why the heart is a place of prayer and desire. The heart is also a place where we may nurture evil things that ally us with what is not good. Jesus also teaches that "out of the heart come evil thoughts--murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander" (Matthew 15:19). John's Gospel tells us that Jesus had many followers in response to particular signs in His ministry, but that "Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people" (John 2:24). In fact, Jesus perceives what is in the heart without having to be told about it. He is called the "heart-knower" in Acts 15:8, which uses a particular Greek word that encapsulates the concept (καρδιογνώστης). All of this is to teach us that if we fail to involve the whole of ourselves in our faith, we are missing out on perception and intelligence. If we fail to nurture our heart or to guard it properly, or to be aware of what we can hold onto that is not good for us, then we aren't guarding our true spiritual, emotional, mental, and intellectual health. We might be blindsided in life by our attachments and prejudices, or the things we dwell upon which skew our proper perception and thinking, and take us away from good direction in life. Let us think about the heart, and what it means to know the true center of ourselves. The journey of faith is always right there as we move forward into its depths.