After everyone had their meal, Jesus instructed his disciples to get back into the boat and go on ahead of him and sail to the other side to Bethsaida. So he dispersed the crowd, said good-bye to his disciples, then slipped away to pray on the mountain. As night fell, the boat was in the middle of the lake and Jesus was alone on land. The wind was against the disciples and he could see that they were straining at the oars, trying to make headway. When it was almost morning, Jesus came to them, walking on the surface of the water, and he started to pass by them. When they all saw him walking on the waves, they thought he was a ghost and screamed out in terror. But he said to them at once, “Don’t yield to fear. Have courage. It’s really me—I Am!” Then he came closer and climbed into the boat with them, and immediately the stormy wind became still. They were completely and utterly overwhelmed with astonishment because they failed to learn the lesson of the miracle of the loaves, and their hearts were unwilling to learn the lesson.
(Mark 6:45-52, The Passion Translation)
Our passage this week is a continuation of last week’s story. Immediately following the miracle meal of the loaves and fish, Jesus sends his disciples off in the boat. He dismisses the enormous crowd–probably not a quick or easy thing, considering that all of them had personal needs they might have wanted Jesus to address–and then climbs a mountain so he can pray. His disciples are struggling out at sea. Jesus sees them as they struggle. He comes to them several hours later, walking on the water. He starts to pass by them. They notice him and are terrified. He gets into the boat and comforts them. The wind subsides. The disciples are amazed and overwhelmed because they hadn’t understood the miracle of the meal.
There are so many things we could highlight in these seven short verses. I’m going to focus on the part that stands out the most to me. Before I do, though, I think it’s important to remind ourselves that, like the disciples before us, there is so much we don’t know. The same will be true for those who come after us. We can read every footnote and commentary there is, look up the etymology of every word, and still end up with zero solid answers to some of our questions. That’s why it is so crucial that we hang onto what we do know about Jesus regarding his love, his kindness, and–as Pastor John highlighted on Sunday–his patience.
The patience of Jesus plays a key role in this passage. And it is frustrating and difficult to understand, just as it often is when Jesus loves us with his patience in the middle of our personal stories. We like to emphasize the love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness of Jesus. These fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) show up a lot when we talk about what Jesus is like, and we’re pretty comfortable with them. But there are two other fruits less often associated with Jesus’ way of being in the world: patience & self-control. We can see both in this story.
Jesus sends his disciples out in a boat, sees the storm come up against them, sees them struggle… and then waits to go to them. This reminds me of when his dear friend Lazarus died and he waited four days to show up. Or when Jairus’ daughter was dying and he chose to stop to listen to the woman who touched him; he waited while she told her whole story–even as Jairus’ daughter died.
Why did he wait to go to where the disciples were? He could see their struggle, knew their fear. Why did he wait?
This question, while frustrating, is not the most disturbing question that rises up in me as I read this story. Verse 48 tells us that Jesus “started to pass by them.” Other translations read, “He intended to pass by them.” What?? I looked up the Greek word that was translated intended, started, or about to depending on the version, and was unnerved to find that the original word indeed means “intended, willed, resolved, desired, wished, delighted in.” Jesus wished–and was delighted–to pass by them? What the actual heck?
I don’t have a framework in which this makes sense. This doesn’t fit with the person Jesus has revealed himself to be… He watches them struggle for hours and then when he finally goes to them, he is intentionally passing them by?
Perhaps this “passing by” of Jesus is connected to another time when God passed by a man named Moses…
Then the Lord said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. (Exodus 33:21-22, NIV)
Moses longed to see the glory of God. God granted his request, but with conditions. He couldn’t see the full glory of God revealed.
Jesus’ disciples couldn’t either.
Except, this time, it wasn’t God’s decision to hide the full revelation. They were the ones that didn’t have eyes to see and hearts that could understand. Jesus came as the full revelation of God. But the world wasn’t ready to see him–not even his closest friends. I don’t know what Jesus was praying about on the mountain. Maybe he was praying that the miracle of the loaves and fish would sink in, that at some point, his friends would stop straining and realize that even though he wasn’t in the boat, he was with them. Maybe his time in prayer was also his patience on display. Like a parent who longs to rescue their child from hard circumstances but knows that their child needs time to see what they couldn’t see before. Maybe he thought that if he waited, surely then they’d be ready to see the full revelation of who he really was. He didn’t have to cover them the way Moses had to be covered. His glory was now on display. Hadn’t they just seen that with the 5,000+ others who had witnessed it?
But they weren’t ready. They couldn’t yet see or understand. They were, instead, afraid.
And Jesus… Sweet Jesus… What does he do? He doesn’t pass by, leaving them in fear. He doesn’t lose control of his words, lashing out at their unbelief and un-woke hearts. He sees them, as he’s seen them all along. He meets them where they are, in the way that they were accustomed to experiencing him, because they weren’t yet ready to experience him in a new way. And he loves them with his kindness that speaks peace into their fearful hearts, and also brings peace to the storm around them. The Passion Translation footnotes and commentary suggest that his miracles “hadn’t yet penetrated their hearts”, and notes that he was “quick to comfort” them in their terror.
His “passing by” could have been a revealing of his God-ness, a picture of his glory, that would have deepened the disciples faith as they realized they were always fully wrapped in the presence of God. But they weren’t ready. Similar to the few of them on the road to Emmaus, whose hearts burned within them as they spoke with Jesus, but didn’t know it was he, the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water. But they weren’t yet ready to acknowledge what that meant. They hadn’t been fully awakened to the truth of who he was.
How often is this story about us? We know that Jesus resides in and among us, that his kingdom is here, now. We know that he’s not on some far-off mountain, waiting to show up, because he is always with us. But when he doesn’t show up in the ways we’re accustomed to seeing him, when he passes by in a new way, with a new layer of his glory on display, how often do we miss him? How many times is he right here in front of our faces as we cry out for his presence? How many times does he see our inability to understand what he is trying to teach us, and chooses–in his kind, self-controlled patience–to meet us where we are with his peace, until we are ready to see a new revelation of who he is?
There is so much we don’t know. So much we may never see. But we, gratefully, have a kind and patient Jesus who is faithfully present to us in our weakness. One who, like a mama or daddy who longs for their child to learn and grow, recognizes when us kids aren’t quite past the fears that keep us from taking that next step into further revelation. One who chooses not to drag us forward kicking and screaming, and not to protect us from the wilderness that can rage around and within us–but to meet us in those places with patience and presence that knows no limit.
The fruit of our Jesus includes patience and self-control, and these are further proof of his kindness toward us.
Jesus can sometimes be incredibly difficult to understand, and like Laura highlighted above, the times in which he allows us to wait, wondering where he is or if he cares are hard times!
Let’s back up in scripture and remind ourselves that before Jesus had a crowd of people to take care of, he and his disciples were headed to a solitary location to spend time together. The disciples were going to have time to tell Jesus all about the miracles and things that happened when he sent them out two by two. They were going to rest, they were going to eat, they were going to have downtime with Jesus. That plan was a bust. 5000+ people chased them, consumed their time and they were required to serve those people even though they were tired and their plans were interrupted.
I wasn’t there, and I’m not the disciples–but I know myself. I would have been impatient, maybe even a little grumpy. I would have assumed that as soon as all the people left I would have my downtime with Jesus, and I would have looked forward to it. So, if Jesus had sent me away without him–I’m fairly certain that I wouldn’t have been overjoyed.
Here are the very tired disciples, in their boat, leaving the shore without Jesus. It’s been a long day. It hasn’t gone according to their plan. And now they’ve been sent off. To top it off, while these tired men are on the lake in the dark, a storm comes up and they find themselves “straining at the oars, because the wind was against them” (v. 48). They are not sleeping, they are not being refreshed, they are fighting the wind.
And Jesus…he had gone up on a mountainside to pray. Scripture tells us that Jesus could see the disciples struggling and like Laura asked above, why did he wait?
We certainly don’t understand the mind of God, we certainly don’t understand all of God’s ways, which is why it is so important to know God’s character.
I love Laura’s interpretation of Jesus almost passing by being like the Old Testament story of God’s glory passing by Moses. However, I’m going to throw out another possibility to consider, again stating that we don’t know the mind of God, so these are suppositions to ponder, and it’s always possible that it’s a both/and rather than an either/or.
I’m going to start at the end of our scripture passage because there we learn that the disciples “had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened”. (v. 52). Hardened hearts. According to Strong’s concordance, the word “hardened” means “to cover with a thick skin, to harden by covering with a callus; to grow hard, callous, become dull, lose the power of understanding; blind.”
In the King James Version, and in Young’s Literal Translation, and possibly other translations, that last line of this passage gives the group a singular heart… “their heart was hardened” (v. 52, KJV). The whole group together, the heart of the group was hardened. Had they been complaining, grumbling, murmuring, sharing their frustrations about the day with one another? Were they talking themselves into a collective funk? It’s certainly possible. Haven’t we all been in disgruntled groups talking ourselves into a collective hardened heart? It’s something to think about.
So, four to six hours after the heart-hardened disciples begin to struggle, Jesus begins to walk out to them. They are fighting against the wind. Some of the disciples were professional fishermen before they became followers of Jesus. My assumption would be that they are the ones in charge at this moment. They are leaning on their own understanding as they battle against the wind, but the wind is fierce and they are tired. Are they yelling at each other in their frustration? I don’t know, but I imagine things weren’t calm and quiet in the boat. They were striving in their own strength–and Pastor John reminded us that sometimes in our own striving we can miss Jesus. Been there!
It’s also important to remember that Jesus doesn’t force himself upon us-he is always present, always available, yet he gives us opportunity to reach for him. Is it possible that he almost walked by because the disciples were so consumed by their own struggle that they didn’t see him, didn’t call for him? Maybe they were even mad at him for sending them away and allowing them to be in the storm alone (even though Jesus had been watching them the whole time).
Someone eventually looks up from the struggle and sees something on the water. Fear ensues. They can’t even imagine that it could be Jesus. So Jesus, in his kindness, tells the disciples three things:
- Take courage.
- It is I.
- Don’t be afraid.
The root of courage comes from the Latin word “cor”, which means “heart”. Jesus is saying “take heart”. It is “I”–your Lord, your teacher, your friend, the great “I AM”; don’t be afraid…
In this instance, the word “afraid” actually means: to cause one inward commotion, take away his calmness of mind, disturb his equanimity; to perplex the mind of one by suggesting scruples or doubts; to strike one’s spirit with fear and dread” (Strong’s).
Read those words again, and remember that collectively, as a group, their heart was hardened.
Jesus says to them, don’t be overcome by inward commotion, by doubts, by fear, by dread. Remember, Jesus hasn’t calmed the storm yet. He is saying these things while the storm is still raging–while they are still fighting against the wind.
Pastor John reminded us that sometimes we desire Jesus to take care of our crisis, but his focus is not our crisis, his focus is us. We want him to sweep in and fix things for us so that we can have inner calm and peace based on peaceful surroundings, peaceful relationships, healthy bodies, healthy finances, cars that run like they should, etc. And Jesus, he is much more concerned about us in the midst of all of those things. Instead of saying “I’ve got this”, he says “I’ve got you”. It reminds me of John 16:33 where Jesus says In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Is that enough for us? Is Jesus himself enough for us?
Natalie Grant sings a song whose chorus says:
Help me want the healer more than the healing
Help me want the savior more than the saving
Help me want the giver more than the giving
Oh help me want you Jesus more than anything
I think it’s hard to acknowledge that Jesus is enough, whether my crisis is ever taken care of, whether I get the answers to my prayers that I want, whether Jesus bows to my whims or not. I always have heart work to do in this area. Is he, alone, enough? Do I desire him above all else? Not always.
Then, after he has encouraged them with his words, Jesus got into the boat, his presence calmed the wind, and they were amazed…for they had not understood about the loaves’ their heart was hardened.
Such an interesting way to end the account of this day. So much to ponder. Are you tired? are you frustrated? Do you need downtime with Jesus and can’t seem to get it? Do the needs of other people frustrate you? Does Jesus seem silent? Does Jesus seem distant? Does it seem like Jesus doesn’t care about your situation? Are you part of a group that is collectively disillusioned? What is the condition of the heart of the group? What is the condition of your heart? Are you striving? Are you struggling? Are you leaning on your own understanding, your own expertise?
Jesus is near. Take heart. The great “I AM” is here. Don’t be afraid. Give him access, not only to your situation but to your being. He will take our hearts of stone and give us hearts of flesh. (Ez. 36:26). His presence is our peace. Do we trust the kindness of his heart?