Talk about a click-bait title!
The Bible teaches, not only in its content, but also in its design and structure.
Check it out. The structure of Mark 6:31-7:37 is as follows:
- Jesus feeds the five thousand (6:31-44)
- The disciples cross the sea and land (6:45-56)
- The disciples show a lack of faith and understanding
- Jesus conflicts with the Pharisees over the nature of defilement (7:21-23)
- Jesus talks to a woman about bread (7:24-30)
- Jesus heals a deaf and mute man (7:31-36)
- The crowd makes a confession of faith (7:37)
Mark 8:1-30 follows this sequence:
- Jesus feeds the four thousand (8:1-9)
- The disciples cross the sea and land (8:10)
- Jesus conflicts with the Pharisees over the need for a sign (8:11-13)
- Jesus talks to the disciples about bread (8:14-21)
- The disciples show their lack of faith and understanding
- Jesus heals blind man (8:13-21)
- Peter makes a confession of faith (8:27-30)
Some of the parallels are clear, like feeding of the crowds and healings – in both cases Jesus uses spit in the healing process (7:33, 8:23). Other parallels are less obvious. But I am convinced that the overall structure holds. This begs the question: Why did Mark structure his book like this or, the related question, why did Jesus repeat similar miracles like feeding the crowd?
There may be many reasons for this, but I think the most obvious is this, our first lesson about spiritual growth: Jesus knows we need to learn and re-learn the same lesson. We need repetition before we “get it”. Take a look at the disciples. In both sequences, though at slightly different times, the disciples lack of faith and understanding is pointed out:
Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” 51 Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, 52 for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.
14 The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. 15 “Be careful,” Jesus warned them. “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.”
16 They discussed this with one another and said, “It is because we have no bread.”
17 Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened?18 Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”
The disciples don’t get it, which is kind of surprising given that they have had the inside track since he called them. They left everything to follow him. Jesus explained the parables to them when their meaning was hidden from the crowds. They saw the miracles of the loaves and the fishes. And yet, they are still described as lacking in spiritual insight. They have ears but don’t hear and eyes that don’t see. At this point, they are much more like the hard soil than the good soil, except for the grace of God.
And this teaches us the second lesson about spiritual growth: Most of us don’t totally “get it” all at once. We need repeated encounters with Jesus.
When I think back over my life I can think of a handful of pivotal moments of spiritual growth but, in all honesty, even those “big ones” only produced a small amount of the spiritual fruit that I’ve seen in my life. Most of my growth (if I can point to any) has come from “routine” encounters with Jesus and his people: Reading scripture, study, attending church, prayer, confession, and working through daily toils.
Will a single sermon change your life? Maybe not, but a lifetime of them will.
Will you have an epiphany the next time you open Scripture? Possibly, but it is more likely that your daily routine of reading the Bible will slowly but steadily enlighten your mind and align your values.
Will that camp experience bring about lasting transformation? Yes, but only if it is followed up through discipleship in a community of faith.
The disciples had their ups and downs and so will we. Jesus was patient with them, and I am incredibly comforted by that fact. The best news is that the disciples ended well. God faithfully completed the work he started in them – by teaching and re-teaching them through his power and presence.