Painting of an old woman reading the Bible by a fireplace
The daily lectionary for February 23 includes Mark 6:30-56

This morning’s reading included the story of Jesus walking on the water, as told by Mark (6:45-52) – so, not the one where Peter tries to do it, too, but the one where the disciples are terrified because they think it’s a ghost. This is the second time Jesus has calmed storms on the Sea of Galilee in Mark, which got me really bewildered, because I thought “I just read the one where he’s asleep in the back of the boat” and then couldn’t find it (it’s Mark 4:35-41) and “I thought Matthew was the one where Peter walks on water” (it is, Matthew 14:22-33) and I had to drag out my old faithful Nelson NRSV with the synopsis of the gospels to track everything down because I got looking in Luke for another version of this story and should have known better (Luke doesn’t tell the story at all; the third version is in John 6:15-21).

And none of that was the point, it just proves it’s about as easy to get lost in the Bible as it is to get lost on the internet, although it’s arguably a better neighborhood to be lost in. The point was that Mark makes the comment (in NLT) “for they still didn’t understand the significance of the miracle of the loaves. Their hearts were too hard to take it in.” Really? Like Pharaoh’s? But NRSV has it “for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.” For some reason I had a hard time comprehending that the disciples’ hearts were hardened. (Maybe I was having the same problem this morning.) Both the Greek verbs in the verse are peculiar enough not to be in the first place one looks in the lexicon. The verb translated “hardened,” pepōrōmenē, is a form of pōróō, and definitely means “harden, petrify” but also “make dull or obtuse or blind.”

I felt more sympathy for the disciples when I thought they might “just” be dull or obtuse or blind, whether or not that makes any sense. But the connection between “hardness” and insensitivity, or inaptitude, or inability to “have insight” or “get” what’s happening does make sense. I am thinking about vegetables that have gotten shriveled up in the fridge, or the Grinch whose heart was two sizes too small, and what we mean by the term “hard-headed,” and thinking of their epistemological significance.