Easy to trivialise: spoof job descriptions clergy and church secretary; JCSS: ‘Prove to me that you’re no fool/walk across my swimming pool’; Paul Daniels. But it has all the signs of an eyewitness account of a very real and altogether alarming experience.
V45 – urgent separation. Why? Jn 6:15 – ‘Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.’
He caused their crisis. But why was it such a crisis?
1. They failed to understand about the loaves, v52
V52 – ‘They had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened’.
They had already experienced Jesus’ power over a storm, Mk 4:39. They had a short while previously been given authority to cast out evil spirits and heal the sick, Mk 6:6-13.
Just a few hours earlier they had seen Jesus feed the people as only the Lord himself fed them in OT times (think manna in the wilderness).
But they still don’t get it. This hardening is characteristic of Jesus’ enemies, Mk 3:5 (‘He looked round at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts…’). And it will go right up to the wire. They still haven’t got it in 8:17-21 (“Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened?…”).
2. They failed to recognise Jesus, v49
The real crisis was not the storm itself, v48, but their reaction.
V48 – ‘He was about to pass them by’ This takes us back to God’s self-disclosure, when he ‘passed by’ Moses, Exod 33:22; 33:19; 34:6, and Elijah, 1 Kgs 19:11 (‘The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”’)
But, far from being reassured, they were terrified, v50 – ‘They thought he was a ghost’.
“Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid”, v50. He climbs into the boat and the wind subsides.
Jesus walks where only God can walk, Job 9:8 (‘He alone stretches out the heavens and treads on the waves of the sea.’). Psa 77:19 ‘Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen.’
V50 – “It is I” = “I am”. Mk 13:6 (“Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he.’”); 14:62 (The high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” “I am,” said Jesus.’) Cf. John’s “I am the…” What John says, Mark shows.
Picture the two simultaneous scenes: the disciples in their storm-tossed boat, Jesus keeping watchful intercession. He comes late in the night, over the very waves that constitute their plight. He does not take them out of the storm-tossed sea, but enables them to complete their voyage.
We can view this as a rehearsal for when Jesus would no longer be present in the flesh. The Acts shows that the disciples learned their lesson well. Will we?