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. – Mark 6:45-52
This passage marks the arrival at a familiar stretch of water, one of the passages that inspired this blog. The passage begins with Jesus seemingly abandoning His disciples to go pray in the mountains. He “made” His disciples get in the boat and left them alone to fend for themselves on the lake. Meanwhile He went into the mountains to pray. I totally get why Jesus would go to the mountains to pray. I am from the mountainous Pacific Northwest of the United States and some of the most amazing spiritual experiences I have had have been in the mountains. It is not clear what Jesus was praying about but He may have been seeking wisdom and guidance about how to teach his disciples to “walk on water” and understand this new way He was teaching about.
The scene continues with Jesus “alone on the land” and the disciples out in the middle of the lake struggling to make any headway against the “wind”. Jesus is on land separated from the disciples by an expanse of water. What if we look at this scene from a metaphorical perspective? In previous posts I have explored the idea that Jesus is a window between two worlds, the physical and spiritual. The land represents the physical world and the water represents the spiritual realm sometimes referred to as the Kingdom of God. As “cave dwellers” accustomed to the earthly realm Jesus’ disciples are having trouble seeing how to navigate the spiritual sea that surrounds them. I think that is the purpose of many of the miracles and events that the disciples experience. It is an effort to help them see this hidden reality and learn how to navigate it.
Most of the disciples in the boat were experienced fisherman. They would have seen, and lived through, many storms on the lake, but this storm was somehow different. I think Jesus was allowing them to experience the wind and waves to make a point and help to channel their hearts toward God. He wanted this experience, just like the experience with Jairus’ daughter, to change their souls and their conception of how big God is and how much of what is going on around them is happening outside their earthly senses.
Jesus walks out onto the lake intending to cross to the other side. Interestingly, Jesus was about to walk by the disciples in the boat until they cried out to Him. I think this is key. They did the right thing, they called out to God, but for the wrong reason. They called out because “they all saw him and were terrified”. What God is looking for is strong and courageous sailors on the spiritual sea that surrounds us. This means setting aside our fears of physical danger and focusing on the One who has extended His arm to save us. It did not matter how accomplished and skilled these fisherman were at navigating and operating a boat. Jesus wanted them to understand that the sea they were really navigating has nothing to do with wind, wetness, and waves. They were wading into deep water and needed to ask for help in crossing it.
Sadly they missed the point of the spiritual squall swirling about them, “They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.” So they were amazed, but not for the right reason. They were supposed to be focusing on the amazing glimpse into the spiritual realm they had been given, but all they could see were wind, waves, and ghosts. Their hearts were hardened, which means their souls were not ready to be shaped into what God needed them to be. Fortunately, most of them get it in the end, but it takes a considerable sacrifice on God’s part.
From a purely physical perspective it is possible to walk on water, but it requires that the water to be in a non-liquid state for most of us. Being from Michigan there are a few months when everyone can “walk on water” – when it is frozen with sufficient thickness to support our body weight. What Jesus does for his disciples through healing and miracles is “freeze” the spiritual sea that is all around them so they can experience its wonders. He is trying to help them learn how to see with eyes accustomed to the dark; hear with ears accustomed to the deafening noise of whirring wings; and sense the spiritual world with sensitive whiskers.
The take away for me from this passage is that I need to be careful and observant to make sure that I do not miss similar opportunities to glimpse the spiritual world around us. Perhaps slow down long enough to “walk on water” even when it is not frozen.
Prayer: God help us to see and experience the spiritual world around us so we can become accustomed to its wonders.