Thursday, February 2, 2017

Testing the Waters

When Jesus saw that the disciples 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 He spoke to them & said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”. Mark 6:48,50 NRSV

Because I'm trying to read the Bible quickly, I don't often linger with individual passages unless something extraordinary jumps out at me. I was in a dark place when I read this, feeling overwhelmed by some things that seemed out of my control. These were exactly the words I needed to hear in the moment & helped provide me with some much needed perspective.

The full story (as far as Mark is concerned) tells us the disciples were crossing over the Sea of Galilee. It'd been a long day. The news of John the Baptist's beheading was fresh in their minds & Jesus had them tending the crowds for another mass miracle- this time, it was the feeding of the 5,000. After all was said & done, He dismissed the crowds & told the disciples to head home. This was shortly before nightfall.

Jesus had decided to stay behind so He could spend some time alone in prayer. Around the 4th watch (just before dawn), He got ready to head back. He could still see the disciples... and that wasn't a good thing. Remember, He had sent them away before nightfall. That meant they'd been on the water anywhere from 6-10 hours now. John's account tells us they were only 3 or 4 miles out (Jn. 6:16-24) & it was at least 13 miles across. It was windy... stormy. The waves were rough & the guys were having a hard time.

They were tired. Some of them were originally disciples of John the Baptist, so they probably had a lot of thoughts & feelings rumbling around inside their heads (If John is dead, maybe we're next!). They'd also been around people all day- working the crowds, passing out food & picking up after everyone. I imagine being stuck out on a stormy sea in the middle of the night was the icing on the cake. All they wanted to do was go home & crawl into bed, but there was a very real chance they might not even make it back alive.

So Jesus sees His disciples & starts walking... on the water. Scripture says He intended to pass by them. There are many theories about this, but I think it was a test to see what they would do. He was hard to make out in the darkness & tumult of sea spray, so they didn't recognize Him. He was probably the furthest thing from their minds at that point. They were so freaked out in fact, that they actually thought He was a ghost. The account says they cried out in terror (which is a kinder, gentler way of saying they were probably screaming like banshees).

Jesus called out to reassure them everything would be ok. According to Matthew 14:28-31, here is where Peter decides to redeem some pride & asks to go out to Jesus on the water. He was probably feeling pretty manly til he remembered the ferocity of the wind & the waves & started to sink. We know what happens next- he cries out, Jesus takes him by hand & they get into the boat.

This wasn't a story about Jesus calming the waters. It wasn't even a story about faith. This was more of a diagnostic assessment... a pop quiz of sorts. Had they already forgotten how He calmed the wind & waves once before (Mt. 8:23-27, Mk. 4:35-41, Luke 8:22-25)? Were they not blown away at how He had just fed thousands of people on scraps? No. They had been preoccupied with other things...

I can imagine the guys moving out of the way as Peter gets in & Jesus sits down. Maybe He stares at them in disbelief for a moment. The wind has suddenly died down & everything is calm... all is quiet. The boat creaks a little as Jesus leans forward in the shadows, looks each of them in the eye & says “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”.

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