Wednesday after Epiphany or 9 January – Gospel

Commentary on Mark 6:45-52
Today’s Gospel follows immediately on yesterday’s account of the feeding of the 5,000. We are told that Jesus “made” his disciples get into the boat and precede him to the far side of the lake. Jesus himself sent the crowd away. The use of the word “made” implies that they did not go very willingly. From John’s version of this story we know that the people were very excited about what had happened and wanted to make Jesus king. One can imagine that the disciples too were basking in the reflected glory and popularity of their Master.  Jesus would have none of it. He first of all packed off his disciples in the boat and then sent the crowds away. He himself retired to the mountains to pray. Was Jesus himself tempted by the enthusiasm of the crowds? Here they were, literally eating out of his hand. What a wonderful opportunity to win them over to his Way! But he knows that that is not the way it is going to happen. He retires to the remoteness of the mountains and renews his closeness to his Father and his desire to do only his Father’s will.
In the meantime, a storm had come up on the lake and the disciples’ boat was being tossed about dangerously. (It is said that sudden storms are a feature of the Lake of Galilee.) The disciples were in big trouble. But Jesus sees them and comes to them walking on the water but makes as if to pass them by. They thought he was a ghost and were even more afraid. Then he spoke to them: “Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid.” As soon as Jesus got into the boat the wind died down. They were utterly amazed, because, says the Evangelist, they had not understood the meaning of the loaves. “On the contrary, their hearts were hardened.”
In reading this story we need to go beyond merely a manifestation of God’s power in Jesus, a power that can even control the elements. The story has strong symbolic overtones. Here, as elsewhere, the boat with the disciples on board is a symbol of a Christian community. The world surrounding it is the world. Sometimes that world gets very stormy and seriously threatens the very existence of the community.
Jesus suddenly appears and seems to be passing by. He is never far away but he does need to be called. Their reaction, far from being comforted, was one of terror. All they saw was a ghost. They could not believe it could be really him. He was far away still on land.
Then Jesus speaks: “It is I”. Literally, in Greek, ego eimi (‘’translated, “I AM”, God’s own name. “Do not be afraid.” With Jesus, there is never anything to fear. Perfect love casts out all fear.
As soon as Jesus steps into the boat there is a calm. Is the calm just in the sea or is the deeper calm in the hearts of the disciples, knowing that Jesus is with them? Jesus is the source of true peace.
They are astonished because they did not understand what had happened during the feeding of the 5,000. Jesus will bring this up again with them later on (8:17). They only saw a miraculous multiplication; they missed, as probably most of the crowd did, the deeper meaning of the event as a tangible expression of God’s love and care for his people. The same care was at work in the boat. And the message is clear for every Christian community today.

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