9 January 2013

Mark 6:45-52

"But when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, 'Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.'" (vv. 49-50)


What is the point of this miracle? In the previous story the purpose of Jesus' miracle was clearly provide food for people, but here the disciples are in no danger and, in any case, Jesus intended to pass them by (verse 48), so the miracle seems useless.  We seem to be in the same position as the disciples - astounded! (verse 51)

Mark's Gospel says that the disciples did not understand because they did not understand about the loaves (verse 52) and so the key to this passage is in the previous story. Jesus provided the people with bread in the wilderness, just as God provided manna in the wilderness for Moses and the Israelites (Exodus 16). Now Jesus walks on the waves, just as God made his path across the sea and, as a shepherd, led Moses and the Israelites across it (Psalm 77:16-20).

This miracle, then, is an epiphany, a revelation to the disciples and to the readers of Mark's Gospel, of who Jesus is: not only the successor of Moses, but is greater than Moses. For Moses mediated God's provision of manna and parting of the waters. Jesus himself does these things directly. This reveals the nature of Jesus as God incarnate. This is reflected in Jesus' statement in verse 50: "It is I" which could also be read, "I am", which is the divine name in the Old Testament (Exodus 3:14). And it is the nature of God to rescue God's people.

The disciples are shaken ('tarasso' in the Greek) by the revelation of the fullness of God in Christ. That does not seem unreasonable. Moses had to hide his face when meeting with God (Exodus 3:6), for if he saw God, he would die. An encounter with the glory of the living God can never be entirely safe for fragile human beings. Indeed, it is only in our shaken-ness that we can truly acknowledge the glory of the God who saves God's shaken people.

To Ponder

  • Have you ever been shaken by an encounter with God? What did it feel like?
  • What things about God puzzle you? What do you do with your bafflement?

Bible notes author

The Revd Anna Bishop

Anna Bishop is a wife, mother and Methodist presbyter. She is currently without appointment while her two small children teach her a spirituality of interruption! She is living in the Salisbury circuit, where she leads Baby-interrupted Bible Study and Little Blessings, a service of worship for babies, toddlers, pre-school children and their carers.