Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. 47 And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. 48 And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night[g] he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, 49 but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, 50 for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” 51 And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, 52 for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened. –Mark 6:45-52
I do not like calling people out as sinners, unbelievers, evil, or hard-hearted. Jesus, however, is willing to use these terms to identify others; he even called Peter “Satan” on one occasion. In this section of Mark’s gospel, the disciples are described as hard-hearted. He connects it with their lack of understanding about the miracle of the loaves and fish, when Jesus fed the multitude of 5000 men (plus the women and children). That was an event they witnessed, yet they were amazed when Jesus came to them walking on water and quieting the winds.
I often think of having a hard heart as being unmoved by another’s pain. Hard-hearted people don’t care that others are suffering. Those whose hearts are hard have no compassion toward others. Worse yet, people with hard hearts have no care for what God says; they will captain their own souls wherever they please. Hardened hearts do not repent, do not bow before God, and refuse to be humble in their treatment of their fellow man.
When I look at this account, however, I discover that I have a hard heart by Jesus’ and Mark’s definition. I don’t always connect the dots of God’s goodness, power, faithfulness, and glory. I can see the hand of God in one moment or situation, and the next minute despair of God’s grace and wonder if he cares about my plight.
Thank God the hardness of our hearts does not prevent Jesus from coming to us or getting in the boat so to speak with us. That’s the other thing I notice here. Jesus was walking on the water; he had no need of a boat. He could have just gone on by the disciples and made his way to wherever he chose. Rather than that, however, he chose to get into the boat with the disciples – to be with them.
We have a God who is willing to be with us – hard-hearted sinners as we may be. Perhaps after a while our hearts will soften, and we will believe his promises and acknowledge his goodness. That is a good thing whether life is stormy or our days are calm.