The disciples had more contact with Jesus than anyone; after all, they were His disciples. They traveled with Him from place to place. They saw Him interacting with people. They heard His teaching and witnessed His power.
They were the insiders of Jesus’ ministry.
And yet, so often the disciples just didn’t get it. Sometimes they were confused. Sometimes it seemed as though they were blind. At time their hearts were hardened. Consider the following.
• When Jesus and His disciples were in a boat being pounded by waves during a furious storm, Jesus woke up long enough to calm the storm. The terrified disciples responded with confusion rather than faith. Mark 4:35-41
• When Jesus walked across water and climbed into the boat with His disciples, they were stunned. They did not understood how Jesus had just fed 5,000 people, let alone how He was walking on water. Their hearts were hardened. Mark 6:45-52
• When the disciples ask Jesus about a parable, He responds by asking, “Are you so dull?” Clearly, they didn’t get it.Mark 7:17-18
• When Jesus fed 4,000 people (after having fed 5,000 in the previous chapter), the disciples didn’t grasp the significance. Jesus probes the hardness of their hearts and wonders aloud if they are spiritually blind and deaf. Finally Jesus asks them, “Do you still not understand?” Mark 8:1-21
• When Jesus asked the disciples about whom they thought He was, Peter “confessed” Jesus as the Messiah. But when Jesus began to explain that being Messiah meant rejection and death, Peter rebuked Jesus. Mark 8:27-38
• When Jesus and the disciples were coming down from the mount of transfiguration, Jesus mentioned His resurrection. The disciples discussed what Jesus meant by “rising from the dead.” Mark 9:9-13
• When Jesus took the disciples aside for some private teaching time (following the transfiguration and the healing of a boy), He again explained His impending betrayal and death. The disciples not only did not understand what Jesus was saying, they were too afraid to ask Him for clarification.
• When Jesus taught about the difficulty of the rich entering the kingdom of heaven, the disciples were amazed and questioned whether anyone could be saved. Mark 10:23-31
• When Jesus and His disciples were traveling to Jerusalem, Jesus again taught them about His betrayal and death (after having already taught them about the first being last and the last being first). James and John ask Jesus for positions of prominence in His kingdom. Mark 10:32-45
• When Jesus left the disciples for private prayer time in the Garden of Gethsemane just prior to His betrayal, the disciples fell asleep even though Jesus had asked them to watch and pray. Mark 14:32-43
While at the same time the insiders fail to grasp what Jesus is about, there appear in the gospel a number of outsiders who show the kind of faith we would have expected from the insiders. Consider the following.
• When an “unclean” woman who had suffered from bleeding for 12 years touched Jesus for healing after she had spent all she had on medical care only to get worse, Jesus recognized her as a woman of faith.
• When a Greek woman from Syrian Phoenicia fell at Jesus’ feet and begged Him to send the demon out of her daughter, Jesus recognized her as having “great faith.” Mark 7:24-30 and Matthew 15:21-28
• When the disciples failed to drive a demon from a boy, the boy’s father took him to Jesus. The father both professed and demonstrated his faith.
• When a man who was not one of the insiders was driving out demons the disciples tried to stop his ministry. Jesus rebuked the disciples and affirmed the outsider’s ministry. Mark 9:38-41
• When people were bringing their children to Jesus for His blessing, the disciples tried to stop them. Jesus, in contrast, was indignant with the disciples for considering the children insignificant. He welcomed the little ones and declared them to be models of what the kingdom was all about. Mark 10:13-16
• When Jesus encountered a pesky and persistent blind man begging on the roadside, He stopped and engaged him. Many in the crowd had tried to prevent the beggar from bothering Jesus. Jesus recognized the man’s faith and healed him. Mark 10:46-52
The way Jesus relates to both the insiders and the outsiders should be an encouragement to us. When we are stubborn and hard-hearted, God does not quickly shake the dust to be done with us. When we don’t understand all the mysteries of the faith, God patiently leads us on the journey of discipleship. When we have faith in our hearts, God will find it even if it is imperfect or as tiny as a seed.
May God open our hearts, our eyes, and our ears to Him. May we be honest about our own blind spots. May we be aware of the faith of others, even those we consider outsiders. May we give thanks to the One who patiently teaches us. And may we keep following the One who asks us to be His disciples.