Commentary on John 6:16-21
We have today an epilogue to the story of the multiplication of the loaves for the 5,000.
Jesus had fled to the mountains to avoid the misdirected enthusiasm of the crowd. Before that (according to Mark’s version of this story) Jesus had packed the disciples off into their boats. Very possibly they were much more ready to receive the adulation of the crowd. They must have been quite excited to have been so closely linked with the sensational act which Jesus had just done and which had stirred up the excitement of the crowd.
The story that follows is much more than a mere account of a storm at sea. There is a good deal of symbolism.
“It was getting dark and Jesus had still not rejoined them.” They might have been feeling quite disgruntled at being sent off so unceremoniously when things seem to be going so well for their Master – and them. Life without Jesus is a kind of darkness.
The strong wind and the rough sea can also be seen as a symbol of the storms that can surround the Church and any Christian community. The boat with the little group inside represents a Christian community surrounded by a hostile sea which can be very threatening at times. It still happens.
Suddenly they see Jesus coming towards them; there is actually no mention here of
walking on the water. Their first reaction is fear until they hear the comforting words: “It
is I. Do not be afraid.” That “It is I” is not mere self-identification, like “It’s only me”.
“It is I” or “I AM” (Greek ego eimi, ‘ego ‘eimi) here is reminiscent of the words spoken by God to Moses from the burning bush. It is a phrase regularly on the lips of Jesus in John’s gospel. It identifies Jesus as one with God.
The words “Do not be afraid” occur regularly from the lips of Jesus and in other parts of the Scriptures as well. With Jesus close by there is no need to be afraid. As the First Letter of John tells us: “Perfect love (agape, ‘agaph) casts out fear.”
They wanted to take Jesus into the boat with them but all of a sudden they found they had reached the shore and safety. Some see a miracle in this. On the other hand, in their fear the shore seemed far away. With Jesus close by they find themselves there in no time. The storm was over, their fears evaporated – with the presence of Jesus. The peace that only Jesus can give has come.
We can have the same experience.