More Water Walking

Mark 6:45–56
45 Immediately [after feeding 5,000] he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. 47 And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. 48 And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, 49 but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, 50 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.” 51 And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, 52 for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened. 53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored to the shore. 54 And when they got out of the boat, the people immediately recognized him 55 and ran about the whole region and began to bring the sick people on their beds to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well.

Gustave Dore, Jesus Walking On Water
From Illustrated Bible - French, 1866
Events are unfolding rather rapidly as Jesus (and His disciples) gain notoriety. Immediately after feeding more than 5,000 people with scant supplies, Jesus hustles the disciples into a boat and sends them across the Sea of Galilee. When John tells the story of the feeding of the 5,000 we find an additional note of information. "Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself." John 6:15 Clearly the crowds are growing in size and in power. Jesus seeks to forestall a riot by withdrawing from the area after He has seen to the safety of His disciples. But Jesus doesn’t just disappear, He gently bids the people farewell and heads up into the mountains to spend time with the Father in prayer. Let’s just look at that practice briefly. After an intense time of ministry, Jesus doesn’t collapse on the couch to watch a little TV. He goes away by Himself to be with His Father, for it there that He will find refreshment.

In this water walking incident, we find a few differences from the time that Peter asks to come out and walk with Him. This is not necessarily a storm situation. Clearly, the disciples are struggling, but not in the sense that they fear for their lives. There is a wind and they were either sailing or rowing against it. They aren’t in trouble but they are working really hard. Jesus also needs to get to the other side of the lake and so heads out across the water – on foot. The imagery of Jesus walking across the water cannot be shrugged off easily. For the people of that day, the sea represented the sins of man and the struggles of this life. Here, the Lord of Life is walking across the top of struggles. He is not afraid or over-powered. Instead He is in full command. The disciples, on the other hand, are filled with fear when they see Him and think that He may even be a ghost. Jesus words to them, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid,” hearken all the way back to Exodus 3:14. The great I AM is present and all is well. There is no need for fear.

As I was reading through this passage the words but their hearts were hardened made me sad. After witnessing a miracle in the feeding of 5,000 people with no food, they are still doubters. Their hearts were hardened. It makes me wonder how many times my own heart is hardened. All too often, I fear. And yet even to those fears I hear the words of Jesus to us all: “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”