Today’s reading is Mark 6:45-56:
Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.
Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified.
Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.
When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there. As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus. They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.
Today’s text from Mark 6 is, on the surface, just another miracle, walking on water, but this is a different sort of miracle. So far, all the miracles we’ve seen in Mark, not to mention most of those that come after, are miracles that help people in a concrete way; Jesus feeds the hungry, Jesus heals the sick, Jesus raises the dead, and so on. Here though, Jesus seems to be walking on water just to get to the other side. The phrase “about to pass by them” indicates Jesus did not necessarily intend to meet the disciples on the water (this is more evident in translations like the ESV where the phrase is rendered “meant to pass by them”). However, the disciples’ bumbling reaction to Jesus spurs the heart of the story.
No disciple recognizes Jesus, though they all see him, and they react with terror, thinking he is a ghost. Then after Jesus has made himself known to them, his calming of the storm still amazes them; though this occurs immediately after the feeding of the five thousand, though the last meal the disciples ate was miraculously made by Jesus, they still do not understand, and the miracles are still incomprehensible. They have not recognized Jesus for who he is. However, an informed reader in this scene can.
This scene refers extensively to Job chapter 9, where Job, in his sufferings, questions the nature of God. There, God is described as the one who “treads upon the waves of the sea” (9:8), as Jesus does. God “performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted” (9:10) as Jesus works miracles the disciples can’t understand. God “passes me, I cannot see him; when he goes by, I cannot perceive him” (9:11) as Jesus is not recognized by the disciples as he goes by. The list goes on, but the main point is clear, Jesus is God.
There, is a deeper point as well, about the nature of God in human pain. Job is not merely describing God, he is bemoaning his suffering and questioning the ways of God. Job laments that “Even if I summoned him and he responded, I do not believe he would give me a hearing. He would crush me with a storm and multiply my wounds for no reason.” (16-17). Jesus refutes this false idea of God. Jesus does not need to be summoned; when he sees the disciples in terror he comes to their aid. Jesus does not wait to give a hearing; he speaks encouragement immediately. Jesus does not bring down a storm for no reason; he saves the disciples from it.
Then, at the end of chapter 9, Job complains that God is not a mortal he can confront in court (32), and he wishes, “If only there were someone to mediate between us, someone to bring us together” (33). Job wants the justification for his suffering to be made clear, but recognizing his fundamental inequality to God, he knows he can neither face God nor expect a full answer. But this full answer is available to us in Christ.
Job considers God as the source of everything, including evil, and that he could be saved if only someone would plead his innocence. Jesus comes to be our mediator, but not to plead our innocence to an angry God, but to show us how to relate to God and how God relates to us, correcting the errors of Job. God is not the creator of the storm with no reason, He is the God who climbs in the boat with us in the storm, who incarnates Himself in Jesus in a sinful world, to encourage us and to calm our storms. Only through Jesus can one reach the full answer to the problems of suffering, sin, evil, and God set out in Job. However, this is not the place for such a full answer, it is the place to say that this scene’s allusion to Job makes clear both that Jesus is God and that Jesus exemplifies to us the nature of man’s relationship to God.
After the storm, Jesus and the disciples arrive on the other side. Then, the first thing to happen after this ordeal of the disciples failing to recognize Jesus for who he is and after the allusion to Jesus’ divinity, is “people recognize Jesus.” While this does not imply a literal recognition of Jesus as divine, thematically it sets the recognition of the people against the error of the disciples and in response to the allusion to Jesus’ divinity. And once more, Jesus returns to healing the sick, to doing miracles, to serving the people. God is shown among us, with the same awesome power Job speaks of, but not power used to harm without reason, rather power used to serve us, to take flesh among us, to save us, to conquer death, and to give us all new life in Christ.
Greg Scalise ’18 lives in Canaday Hall.