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Shaping the Disciples – Mark 6

I noticed something new as I was reading through Mark 6 today, something that I hadn’t seen before.

In the early part of the chapter, in verses 7 through 13, Jesus had sent out the 12 disciples 2 by 2 to various villages around to preach and drive out evil spirits. They went out and did as Jesus told them to do and then came back to Jesus.

There is an interlude from verse 14 to 29 as Mark tells the story of how John the Baptist was imprisoned and eventually killed, but then he picks the story back up in verse 30 where it says that Jesus and the disciples didn’t even have a chance to eat because there were so many people coming and going from where they were staying. As a result, Jesus decides that, given that the disciples had just come back from their journey and that they weren’t able to eat or rest, they need to take some time away.

But it doesn’t work out. They get into a boat and leave, headed off to another place, remote location. But the people watch them from the land and run along the shore to where they end up landing.

When they land, the people are there and Mark says that Jesus had compassion on them. But I can imagine that the disciples might have been a little frustrated at that point. They were trying to get away to even be able to eat and rest after their journey, at Jesus’s direction no less, and yet all of the people keep crowding them and they aren’t able to do what they were hoping to do.

So now, there are thousands of people that have come to this remote location and it is getting late in the evening. The disciples come to Jesus to see if they can finally rest, saying that they want to send the crowd away so that they can go to eat, and Jesus says to them:

“You give them something to eat.”

They said to him, “That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?”

Mark 6:37

I feel like I can hear the frustration in the disciples’ voices, the weariness from their trip and the crowds, and now it seems to me that they are frustrated by Jesus’s insistence that they solve the problem of feeding thousands of people with really nothing in their hands.

I’ve heard people say many times that Jesus was testing the faith of the disciples, and ultimately showing them his power because they later picked up 12 baskets full of bread and fish, one for each disciple. And I think that is correct. But I think that, given the situation, Jesus might be doing something even more here.

Often, when we are at our greatest level of stress, feeling challenged on every side, feeling tired and not able to move forward well, we can truly see what is inside of us. Our social filters are worn down and we can frequently see more easily what is truly in our hearts.

In the case of the disciples, we do see that their priorities are different than that of Jesus. Jesus has compassion upon the people, but the disciples are ready to send them home. Jesus tells his disciples to feed the people, obviously knowing that they didn’t have food for thousands of people because they had just traveled to that remote area in a boat, but without thinking about what Jesus might be doing or teaching them, they immediately react indignantly.

So, I think that this situation was tailor-made, at least in part, to mold and shape the disciples. Jesus kept them on the move, teaching them through the situations to grow and become more like him.

How often does he do the same with us? How often does Jesus put us, his disciples of today, into challenging situations, to allow us to see what is truly inside of us and show us how he wants us to grow?

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