Blogging Towards Sunday February 5th
This is a curious story. The second miracles on the water – of the sea of Galilee. It echoes what we’ve already experienced in Mark 4:35-41 when Jesus calms the storm, and goes beyond it. Are they the same story edited because it’s such a good one? Or is this wonder on the water moving the disciples – and thus us: the current readers, by extension – to deeper faith?
After feeding the 5,000 Jesus does something even more radical: he defies gravity.
Why does he send them off without him? The text doesn’t directly say but it does point to the fact that Jesus wants to withdraw to a spiritual place. In Judaism, mountain tops were consistently understood and experienced as a place to encounter the presence of God. Think of Jesus receiving the 10 commandments, seeing God pass by the hole in the rock, Elijah and his miraculous sacrifice, Elijah seeing God in the silence, the transfiguration of Jesus. Jesus leaves the place of the common or the “profane” to seek out holy ground, a sanctuary away from distractions. Jesus has already done this (Mark 1:35).
But why doesn’t he invited the disciples to pray with him? Jesus’ authority and spiritual presence seems to find its source in his insistence on meditation and personal prayer: as a place of renewal, centering and active listening.
Why would he intend to pass them by? (v 49) Is Jesus trying to show them that he can walk on the water, so that they have no need to fear the waves under his feet and against which they are torturously toiling? It seems to be a revelation (epiphany) of God’s power in Jesus – for according to the First Testament only God can walk on water (Job 9:8; Psalm 77:19). Whatever it is, the intention of Jesus can’t have been to walk past them or ignore them, for he goes onto the lake to find them. The curious twist in the story is that his miraculous presence rather then encourage the worn-down disciples, terrifies them.
What don’t they understand about the loaves? They seem to be fixated upon Jesus as just a wonder-worker doing miraculous things. Distracted by the bling, they fail to make the connection between the mysterious meal of abundance and Jesus walking on water and the inherent fact that Jesus is more than just a wonder-worker. Their hearts are hardened, and so not open to the truth, to seeing Jesus for who he is. Ironically that’s the exact criticism that Jesus’ declared enemies receive in Mark 3:5 and 10:5).
Why are their hearts hardened? In Mark 4:12 and 8:18 their eyes are closed. Do they suffer from an inability to see who Jesus truly is, or is it that they are unwilling to do so? The words point back to the Exodus story – and another miraculous crossing of a sea – in which God hardens Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 7:3 & 13).
The end of the periocope tells of the faith of those seeking miracles in Jesus. It’s easy to imagine the scene and the desperation of the sick and broken who have no access to modern medicine, let alone an HMO or state health care plan. They believe in him and the power that seems to emanate even just for a mere physical touch of his clothing, his body or his aura. Whereas such faith isn’t seemingly sufficient for the inner-circle of the disciples, here Jesus doesn’t criticize a faith that looks principally and primarily for miracles. by Jesus, so hungry for his words and thirsty for his wisdom that they forgot to think ahead and pack food? That seems a stretch. Were they just selfish, not wanting to share with each other? Or is Mark implying that the people didn’t have anything but their yearning for a different life (a bit like the Israelites thirsting for liberation from their slavery in Egypt)?
What’s this story all about? Are we called to walk on water? I’ve tried it, have you? I can’t do it. Is it a reminder that we’re not God? It is a challenge to move beyond our human limits? As I reflect on this the words of the climatic song of the musical Wicked, “Defying Gravity” [video] :
“Something has changed within meSomething is not the sameI'm through with playing by the rulesOf someone else's gameToo late for second-guessingToo late to go back to sleep It's time to trust my instinctsClose my eyes: and leap! It's time to tryDefying gravity I think I'll tryDefying gravityAnd you can't pull me down!”
The wicked witch (Elphaba) has seen behind the curtain of the infamous wizard. All of her expectations and preconceived ideas have crumbled. She has to re-see the world and her place in it.
· How are you – and we as a church – called to hearts that are soft and eyes that are open?
· What keeps you from believing that Jesus is God – not just a miracle worker – but the God of the universe that loves us so much that he would cross the lake to get into the boats of our lives?
· Jesus taught that with faith we [his followers] can move mountains, or defy gravity. Do you try to do so? Why? Why not? What does Jesus mean by that?
· How is God possibly inviting us to respond with our gifts, passion and creativity to the needs of the world, by joining in to what God is already doing?