Mark 6:45-52 (NRSV)
Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After saying farewell to them, he went up on the mountain to pray.
When evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. When he saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the sea. He intended to pass them by. But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; 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.” Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.
By Chuck Griffin
This passage reveals much about the internal confusion the disciples faced as they followed Jesus. I feel certain that many of us struggle similarly from time to time.
Just before this walking-on-the-water event in Mark, we have an account of Jesus miraculously feeding the multitudes, demonstrating that five loaves of bread and two fish will feed 5,000 men and their families when God takes direct action.
The disciples had powerful evidence at the impromptu banquet that God was in their midst, but from the later remark that “their hearts were hardened,” we can discern they were not accepting this great truth when Jesus sent them to cross the Sea of Galilee without him.
They needed another miracle, one they could interpret more clearly.
Just as they struggled with spiritual understanding, they struggled to cross the sea, the wind against them. But what impeded them was not a problem for Jesus, walking on the water and against the wind with ease.
Once he was in the boat with them, the struggle ceased―the one who made the wind and sea had rejoined them.
Jesus’ statement, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid,” is particularly telling. What we translate as “it is I” can also be translated as “I am,” evoking memories of God’s early revelation of himself to Moses.
It can be difficult to recognize when God is with us. If these men strained to understand, it is no surprise that sometimes we struggle. I do not fully understand why we resist the truth of God’s presence in our lives. I just know it happens.
The brokenness of the world and our need to deal with what seem like immediate, pressing problems certainly can interfere with our perception of God.
Perhaps we also have a certain level of discomfort knowing that the presence of God calls for change, and we don’t like the idea of changing.
Those responses are rooted in fear, though—fear that if we don’t control a particular situation, no one will, or fear that in being transformed, we somehow might lose something. And if we spend a few minutes thinking as Christians about each scenario, it’s not hard to see that both fears are irrational.
Jesus often said in one way or another, “Do not be afraid.” I suppose we need to take his advice to heart if we are to develop a full and complete kind of faith.
Lord, thank you for evidence of your presence. May these experiences burrow more deeply into our souls. Amen.