The Dimwitted Disciples — Chad Martin

7th Sunday after Trinity
Mark 8:1-9

Jesus with his Disciples

One of my seminary professors used to jokingly say that reading the Gospel of Mark is a dangerous thing for modern-day Christian disciples to do. Instead, he would say, “they should start with Matthew, Luke or John.”

This is because the 12 disciples do not come off very well in Mark. Out of all the Gospels, Mark portrays the apostles of Christ as a group of dense and dimwitted disciples who just don’t seem to get it.

Today’s gospel lesson is a prime example of this. “Now, it would be one thing if this was the first time the 12 followers of Christ had witnessed Jesus miraculously multiply a few pieces of bread and fish to feed thousands of people, but that’s not the case.

Just a couple of chapters prior to today’s Gospel (Mark 6:34), the disciples witnessed Jesus miraculously multiply (five) loaves of bread and (two) fish to feed five thousand hungry people.

So in today’s gospel when the disciples are faced with 4,000 hungry people, one might expect that they would react with calmness and confidence—after all, unlike the previous miracle in which the disciples had only five loaves of bread and two fish to work with—in today’s gospel they have seven loaves and a few small fish, but the extra pieces of bread and fish do not seem to bolster their confidence.

Even though the disciples have already witnessed Jesus feed a thousand more people with less food, the disciples still don’t seem to get it.

Instead they helplessly look around and exclaim, “”Where in the world are we going to find enough bread?”

However, it doesn’t stop there. Just a few verses later in Mark’s gospel, Jesus and his disciples climb back into the boat to sail across Lake Galilee.

And as they arrive in the boat, the disciples suddenly realize that they have forgotten the bread, they only have one loaf and are not quite sure if that will be enough for all of them.

Jesus, knowing their thoughts, sternly rebukes them saying, “Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand how many baskets of pieces did you pick up?”

“Twelve,” they replied. “And when I broke seven loaves for the 4,000. How many baskets of pieces did you pick up?” “Seven,” they answered. He said to them, “Do you still not understand?” (Mark 8:18-21).

In other words, Jesus is telling His dimwitted disciples: After you have personally witnessed these miracles, don’t you get it? Don’t you understand the abundant generosity of God? Don’t you get that God will take care of you in all your needs?

I imagine that most of us have a lot more in common with the disciples in today’s gospel than we would like to admit.

After all, how many times has God come through for us when there seemed to be no hope? How many times has God done something for us that we thought was impossible?

And yet, how many times have we found ourselves doubting God’s ability to help when the next difficult circumstance or challenge arises?

Like the disciples in Mark’s gospel, we may hear the good news of God’s endless supply of bread for all, but we still don’t get it!

Back when the telegraph was the fastest means of long-distance communication, there was a story about a young man who applied for a job as a Morse code operator.

Answering an ad in the newspaper, he went to the address that was listed. When he arrived, he entered a large, noisy office. In the background a telegraph clacked away.

A sign on the receptionist’s counter instructed all job applicants to fill out a form and wait until they were called to enter the office. The young man completed his form and sat down with seven other waiting applicants.

After a few minutes, the young man stood up, crossed the room to the door of the office, and walked right in.

Naturally the other applicants perked up, wondering what was going on. Why had this man been so bold?

The other applicants took more than a little satisfaction in assuming the young man who went into the office would be reprimanded for his presumption and disqualified for the job.

However, within a few minutes the young man emerged from the office escorted by the interviewer, who announced to the other applicants, “Gentlemen, thank you very much for coming, but the job has been filled.”

The other applicants began grumbling to each other, and then one finally spoke up, “Wait a minute! I don’t understand. He was the last one to come in, and we never even got a chance to be interviewed. Yet he got the job.”

The employer responded, “All the time you’ve been sitting here, the telegraph has been ticking out the following message in Morse code: ‘If you understand this message, then come right in. The job is yours.’

You may have heard the ticking, but none of you understood it. This young man did. So the job is his.”

The question for us today is not just, “have we heard the good news of Christ, but do we (get it) do we understand it?” Do we really believe and act upon what Holy Scripture tells us about the power of God and His ability to provide and take care of us?

The truth is, most of the time, we are just as dense as the disciples in Mark’s gospel. After all, when difficult circumstances arise, how many times do we find ourselves asking the very same question that they did, “Where in the world are we going to find enough bread?”
Now perhaps, we don’t use those exact words. More often it may sound something like: “How can God possibly take care of me in this crisis that I’m facing? What am I going to do? Things are awful right now and I don’t know how I’m ever going to manage!”

In other words, when we don’t get it, we forget that we are safe and secure in the hands of a fully competent, all-knowing, ever-present God.

When we don’t get it, we live in a constant state of fear and anxiety because we are convinced that everything depends upon us and our own efforts.

I’ll be the first to admit that there are times in my own life when I make arrangements with God, telling Him that I will give this part of my life over to Him or this part, but this part…this part is really important (and I know how busy you are God), so I’ll just take of this one myself.

Like the disciples in today’s gospel, from time to time we forget what God has already done for us—that all we have and all we are is a gift from God.

As today’s collect reminds us, “Lord of all power and might, who art the author and giver of all good things.”

The good news is even when we are dense, dimwitted, and just don’t get it; God continues to love us. God loves us just as we are right now and through Christ nothing will ever separate us from His love.

As St. Paul put it, “for I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38).

This morning may we witness the power of God working in us, through us, and around us every moment of our lives; remembering that everything is not dependent upon us and our own efforts. When we let go and surrender ourselves to God, He is quite capable of meeting our every need.

After all, God has proven himself time and time again. So, may we faithfully entrust our meager resources and lives to God, so that we will be blessed and in return be a blessing to others.