Mark 6: 45 – 56 Jesus walks on the water
Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.
Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. 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, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified.
Immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’ Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.
When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there. As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognised Jesus. They ran throughout that whole region and carried those who were ill on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went – into villages, towns or countryside – they placed those who were ill in the market-places. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.
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As well as this passage in Mark’s gospel, this story appears in two of the other three gospels, in Matthew 14: 22 – 32 (this account adds that Peter, too, walked on water with Jesus’ encouragement), and in John 6: 16 – 24. It doesn’t appear in St Luke’s gospel.
All three writers – John, Matthew and Mark – place the story immediately after the feeding of the five thousand.
It’s significant that this story appears in John’s gospel, because the emphasis of that gospel is different from the other three. While Matthew, Mark and Luke are primarily concerned to tell us what happened in the life of Jesus, John, in his gospel, is setting down his understanding of the significance of Jesus. He chooses the miracles that he recounts very carefully to shed light on the nature and identity of Jesus.
Mark’s account is very straightforward.
Jesus is very much in charge. He sends the disciples away in the boat; he dismisses the crowd of 5000 people; he prays in solitude; he walks across the lake – on the water; he calms the fears of the disciples; and when they arrive at Gennesaret, Jesus heals a multitude of sick people.
The disciples, on the other hand, struggle to row against the wind; are terrified when they see Jesus walking on the water; and are amazed when Jesus climbs into the boat and the wind dies down. Mark adds, ‘for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.’
This miracle almost seems frivolous, doesn’t it? I mean, if you’re going to set aside the way the world normally works, why not do it comprehensively? Just go from where you are to where you want to be without any tedious walking – on water, or anything else.
And, unlike the healings, which were too many to count, walking on water happened only once.
This uniqueness is, I think, the clue to what the passage is all about. It is one of a handful of events that happened only once, (the others are turning water into wine, the transfiguration, and the calming of the storm), and it happened for the disciples alone. These are events that are dramatically supernatural.
It was necessary for those who were to bear witness to Jesus after his death and resurrection that their hearts should be prepared to believe that Jesus truly is the Son of God. They had just seen Jesus feed five thousand people with five loaves and two fish, and yet, when they saw him walking on the water, they were terrified. “…for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.” They trusted Jesus. They obeyed him. But he was still only their teacher and their leader, not their God.
When they saw Jesus walking on the water, they cried out. Grown men, tough fishermen, cried out in fear. And Jesus immediately called to them: “ ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’ Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed.”
They had just seen Jesus in control of the physical world. He had just done something completely impossible. Only someone supernatural would have the power to walk on water.
And yet, they had been with Jesus night and day. They knew he was a man. They’d seen him exhausted, they’d seen him hungry, they’d seen him at table. They knew, beyond any doubt, that Jesus was a man.
It’s not surprising the disciples hadn’t understood the feeding of the five thousand. Their hearts were hardened by the difficulty of believing that a man could wield the power of God.
Where do I stand on this miracle?
Now that I understand the significance of this miracle, that it is a sign, a pointer to the divine Jesus, I believe it completely. It’s true, literally true.
While reading about this passage, I came across two separate comments that really spoke in my heart. These were:
- Jesus is Lord of the elements because he is clothed with the very power of God. Jesus is not only a teacher whom the disciples follow but also the Son of God to whom they prostrate themselves.
- Perfect love casts out all fear. This is the only perfection for which we should all be striving. To love Jesus more deeply and trust him more completely with our lives.
The first speaks to my increasing desire to kneel in church when we’re worshipping Jesus. The second describes my growing experience of Jesus as he deepens my love for him.
Thank you so much for your blessed son, Jesus. Thank you for drawing me closer to him.
In Jesus name, Amen