Years ago I experienced an “aha!” moment when I read Mark 6:45-52. And what good is an aha! moment if you don’t share it? Let me tell you about this one.
A lot goes on in chapter 6 of Mark. Jesus sent out His disciples, in pairs, with nothing but a buddy and the power over impure spirits. We aren’t told how long they were gone but we were told they experienced quite a bit of victory. They were casting out demons, healing people, preaching repentance. They had quite the platform! (shout out to Jon Acuff’s insight on platform problems 🙂 It must have been exciting. Can you imagine being just an average Joe or Josie and having such an experience? The people at the time didn’t know what to think. They couldn’t quite figure out this Jesus fella. Was He a prophet? Was He Elijah? Was He John the Baptist resurrected? Of course, word got around. “There’s a pretty powerful dude in our midst and his followers are powerful, too!” The crowds pressed in, leading to the loaves and fishes miracle. Then Jesus gave the disciples time to get away (sent them off in a boat on the lake) while He dismissed the crowds, and headed in a different direction (on a mountainside to pray). Evidently Jesus could see the disciples from where He was praying because we are told He saw them struggling against the wind.
47 Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he (Jesus) was alone on land. 48 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, 49 but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, 50 because they all saw him and were terrified.
He saw them struggling “later that night”, but let them struggle all night until “shortly before dawn” before He did anything at all. What gives, Jesus? Were You trying to keep them humble? Were they complaining a bit too much about the demanding masses? Were You praying for them while you watched them struggle as part of Your plan? I think it’s quite possible He was waiting on them to call out to Him. Earlier in Mark 4, the disciples saw the wind and waves obey Jesus and marveled. But somehow they didn’t think about that in this situation. Of course, He wasn’t in the boat with them this time, either. But if He could see them, could they not see Him? I imagine them straining at the oars, heads down, complaining about their plight. Jesus decides to get their attention. Shortly before dawn, He walks towards them. Obviously they didn’t notice Him at first because the phrase that jumped out to me in my “aha!” moment years ago was “He was about to pass by them.” First He “went out to them”, but they were so focused on the problem at hand they didn’t notice Him. So He was just gonna pass right by. The more I think about it, the funnier it seems, because I have been that person so focused on my problems I miss Jesus walking around in the midst of the circumstances, whistling, grinning, waiting for me to glance in His direction and call out to Him. But I don’t look because I don’t expect to see Him there in the mess with me.
In this story I imagine Jesus initially on the shore saying (praying), “Dad, why don’t they call out to me? They know I can help them, right? I’ve got to get their attention. They aren’t hearing me over the wind and waves. I’ll go out there. (la-de-da) I’m walking on the water. This will get their attention. Seriously? Dad, they aren’t looking. They won’t look up! I’ll walk reeeaaaallllyyyy slooowly past the boat….” Then the disciples see Him. It scares them out of their minds to see Him there like that! It must be a ghost! What would you cry out if you thought you were seeing a ghost floating on the lake? Right! “OH MY GOD!!!!” At which point Jesus says, “Yes! Finally! You’ve called out to me. Now I can help you!” (Tammy translation of the Aramaic). And He climbs into the boat with them and the wind dies down.
What is one lesson I learned from this story? The sooner into a situation I pray and seek God, the sooner I recognize His presence in the midst of it. My guess is, as fishermen, the disciples had more experience straining against the wind than they had with Jesus telling the wind to stop. So their habit was working hard to get to the other side and just meeting up with Jesus when they got there. Jesus was trying, I think, to teach them to call out to Him even in the midst of their usual stuff, not just the big stuff. Expect Jesus along the journey, don’t just expect to see Him at the end.