I came across this verse the other day, and honestly don't remember ever having read it. Though I know I must have, but I guess I wasn't paying attention because, boy, is it weird.
(48) ... Around the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea... (49) But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought that it was a ghost, and they cried out. (50) For they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke with them and said to them, “Have courage, I am he! Do not be afraid!” (51) And he went up with them into the boat, and the wind abated. And they were extraordinarily astounded within themselves, (52) BECAUSE THEY DID NOT UNDERSTAND CONCERNING THE LOAVES, but their hearts were hardened. (Mark 6; LEB)
What?? Where did this rationale come from? That whole splitting loaves episode happened way earlier in the day. I'd say the most pressing thing at this moment is seeing some guy walking on top of the very water that is sloshing them back and forth!
But not to Mark.
No, Mark is much more concerned with something else. He attributes their dumbfoundedness to not understanding what happened a couple hours ago. Not the actual parceling of bread into five thousand pieces but what this feat said about the man doing it.
I looked at several prominent commentaries to help me better understand this verse (e.g. NAC, Jamieson-Fausset-Brown, Lange, Lenski, Bratcher-Nida), but to no avail. Strangely enough, the simple Holman NT Commentary (Mark) by Cooper helped me get Mark's point the most.
The disciples did not understand Jesus’ miracles. If they had understood the miracle of the feeding of the multitude, they would have understood Jesus walking on the water. They should have understood that Jesus is the Lord of creation. He had primacy over the Sabbath, the purity laws, the bread they ate, and the water upon which they sailed. (Cooper)
The effect of all this is actually quite comical. The expectation we see, from Mark's viewpoint, is that the disciple's should have been able to play it cool better, instead of wigging out like they just saw something highly unusual. I mean come on guys—if you just saw Jesus split up some food infinity times isn't the natural next step to assume that he can walk on water?!
Poor disciples. I think I'd have been just as amazed. Maybe would've even reached overboard and made sure the water was real or that we weren't at some bizarre shallow point in the lake.
Well, at least in hindsight Mark seems to have picked up on what Jesus was laying down. Why the water-walker was so perturbed with them sometimes.
[[In the next post I'm going to review the discourse features present in this text, and cover how being aware of them renders a more complete picture of what Mark was trying to communicate to his audience.]]