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  A Wilderness RetreatMonday, September 25th, 2023  
by Maurice Hamel

"They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves." - Mark 6:52

Much about man and the environment can be learned by observing how Jesus taught by example. In chapter 6 of Mark's gospel, Jesus tells his hard working disciples: "'come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.' So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place." (Mark 6:31-32)

The disciples were taking a boat across the lake to a little secluded cove, to finally get a couple of days off. From today=s perspective, we might expect that when the disciples went with Jesus to a remote place, far from the distractions of the city, it would be an opportunity for them to commune with God through nature. But that was not what happened:

"When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd [which had followed them around the lake], he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things." (Mark 6:34)

There were thousands of people, who had come hoping to hear Jesus. The disciples had no doubt gotten their hopes up about taking it easy for a couple days, but things did not work out according to what they had expected. Yet through this excursion, Jesus gave his disciples a profound and practical teaching on our relationship to God and the creation. He brought them into the wilderness to teach them, by example, about the importance that God places on caring for people, and about their dependence on God.

The gospel of Mark continues by providing an account of what occurred once Jesus had concluded teaching the crowd: "By this time it was late in the day, so the disciples came to him [Jesus], 'This is a remote place,' they said 'and it's already very late. Send the people away so they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.' But he answered, 'You give them something to eat.'" (Mark 6:35-37)

The disciples had assumed that he was asking them to go out and buy supper for 4,000 people. All they could picture was that fact that they did not have that kind of money. The task was too great for them. Of course, this was exactly the point Jesus was trying to make. The disciples were trying to accomplish it under their own strength. They were not yet depending on God to do the things that they could not do themselves.

Mark's gospel builds upon this idea by recounting the disciples' terror that same night when they mistook Jesus walking across the water, for a ghost. Mark concludes that account with the comment: "They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves." (Mark 6:52)

Understood what? They had panicked because they were still not willing to trust God to meet their needs when they had reached their own limitations. This text is saying that the point of the multiplication of the loaves was to teach them about their dependence on God for their physical needs, and God's ability to meet those needs. Like them, we first need to acknowledge that on our own we are hopelessly inept to do anything about the problems we are facing. Only then will we recognize our dependence on God and become willing to call out to him for help. This was the lesson that Jesus gave them during their wilderness retreat.

© Maurice Hamel

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