March 27, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Mark 6:45-52.
Then he made his disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side toward Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. And when he had taken leave of them, he went off to the mountain to pray. When it was evening, the boat was far out on the sea and he was alone on shore. Then he saw that they were tossed about while rowing, for the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them. But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out. They had all seen him and were terrified. But at once he spoke with them, “Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid!” He got into the boat with them and the wind died down. They were [completely] astounded. They had not understood the incident of the loaves. On the contrary their hearts were hardened.
The beginning of this story makes me laugh. Jesus was strolling on the sea to the other shore and just intended to blithely pass by the disciples sometime in the wee hours between 3:00 and 6:00? He didn’t think that his disciples would be a little freaked out?
This gospel comes at a good time for me during this Holy Week. It’s interesting that Matthew gives us a different ending to this story. In his version he has the disciples state, “Truly, you are the Son of God.” For Mark, the earlier writer, the disciples still didn’t comprehend that Jesus was the Son of God. They didn’t realize that he was “I am” as Yahweh refers to himself in the Hebrew Bible. (The literal translation of “it is I’ is “I am.’) They didn’t understand that the multiplication of the loaves was by the power of the Son of God just as God the Father had provided manna in the desert. They didn’t link Jesus to the nature of God that Job describes, “He alone stretches out the heavens and treads upon the crests of the sea.”
The reason this is a good reading for me is because I have a hard time accepting the actuality of Jesus walking on water. I am like the disciples in Mark; my heart is hardened. Walking on water is clearly impossible for a man. It tells me that my difficulty to accept that Jesus actually did walk on water is an indication that I don’t quite accept that he is truly the Son of God. I have a hard time believing in miracles, in believing that with God anything is possible. I’m a skeptic; I have a heart that is hardened to the supernatural. In the same way I am skeptical about the parting of the sea that allowed the Israelites to escape from Egypt. I am still enslaved and unable to grasp God’s readiness to produce a miracle. Like the disciples I still lack faith. The resurrection is ahead, the greatest miracle of all. Sometimes I still wonder if it really happened. Do I really believe it? I still lack faith; my heart is still hardened.
How can that be? Francis Moloney in The Gospel of Mark writes, “The use of the passive mood to indicate that their hearts were hardened raises an important question: who is responsible for this hardening? Is this the result of the influence of Satan, or part of GOd’s design? There is nothing in the text to indicate the former, and thus the possibility of the latter remains. Why that should be the case leads the reader further into the narrative, searching for an explanation of such hardening of hearts….The people recognize that Jesus is the bearer of a unique authority and power. With an unconditional trust, which contrasts sharply from the disciples’ terror, crying out in fear, astonishment, lack of understanding, and hardness of heart, they believe that the touch of his garment will heal the sick.” With the second multiplication of the loaves and fishes, “The disciples continue to display their lack of understanding of who Jesus is and what he is able to do….He asks a question of the disciples which leads them again to indicate that they have not remained true to the command they were given as they were sent out on the mission. When asked, they admit that they are carrying seven loaves, despite the fact that in 6:8 they were told to take no loaf….They are dangerously close to the agenda of the Pharisees who argued and tested Jesus, unable to see the signs of the kingdom of God in the presence of Jesus. God’s reigning presence has been liberally manifested to them in the two bread miracles…But they seem to have no recollection as they worry over the lack of bread.”
There’s my problem. In spite of Jesus’ power and divinity being manifested to me, I argue about the authenticity like the Pharisees. That’s a mask for the real problem: I don’t trust God completely. I’m like the disciples; I worry about the lack of bread. Isn’t it interesting that we use ‘bread’ as an idiom for ‘money’? I still am not able to give myself fully to belief and trust in God’s power and love and providence. I still want to rely upon my own power and my own ability to provide for myself without depending upon God. When I have a problem my first inclination is to figure out a solution on my own instead of talking with God first and listening for what He has to say. What does He want me to do? What is His will? I trust myself more than I do Him to come up with a response to the problem.
It’s a good thing that God has more patience than I do or I would be in big trouble! Jesus says to me, “I am, do not be afraid!” At some point in my life I have to let go of fear, my hardened heart, and allow myself to trust unconditionally in God. At least I hope I am able to do so. Barclay writes, “It is the simple fact of life…that when Christ is there the storm becomes a calm, the tumult becomes a peace, what cannot be done is done, the unbearable becomes bearable, and men pass the breaking point and do not break. To walk with Christ will be for us the conquest of the storm.” A simple fact of life. That’s what I need to accept. Until then Jesus will be only a ghost for me. I’m not laughing at this story any longer!