The readings for Mass today included Matthew's account of Jesus walking on water. As is the case with much of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), they share similar stories, but with sometimes have different details. Mark 6:45-52 also recounts Jesus walking on water, but includes a strange episode (I have highlighted it below) in the recounting of the story. Mark is the only Gospel writer to make this observation:
Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Beth-sa'ida, while he dismissed the crowd. And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the sea 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; have no fear." And he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.Why would Jesus mean to "pass them by"? When I first noticed this it struck me as odd. Why walk on water if Jesus was merely going to pass by the apostles? Once I reflected on it further, it puzzled me further and questions started to arise.
First we notice that the apostles were "making headway painfully" it seems they are absorbed in trying to row the boat and having difficulty. Sometimes we too seem to make headway only with great struggle, through our lives. Life can be hard and we seem to be so absorbed in the reality in front of our eyes, we fail to see Jesus right next to us. Now, the apostles are no different than us and Jesus knows it. So, maybe, after seeing their focus is on the job at hand, he decides to pass them by. But, God wouldn't neglect us.
So, maybe Jesus wanted something more for the apostles and they were not ready for it. He told them to get in the boat and he only shows up at the most unexpected time (3AM during a crazy storm). Earlier in the chapter we hear their "hearts were hardened". They are struggling with the fact that Jesus isn't just a dynamic political leader who will become an earthly king. Rather, Jesus explodes all presuppositions and chooses some thing unexpected and even greater than expectations. He wants to save us right where we are - in the midst of our struggle. But, we have to open our hearts to him first. This isn't easy. This is why they don't recognize him and think he is a ghost. Yet, his voice calls out to us to have no fear. Can we?
The Greek word used "to pass by" is "Parechomai". It can mean to go past, to pass by, to pass away, to come near, and to pass over. When it is connected to the Divine Being, it can take on another meaning - "an epiphany". That is, a manifestation of God's power and presence. There are a few other Biblical events where God "passes by". One of my favorites is when God has His goodness "pass by" Moses, in Exodus 33:14.
Therefore, another reason Jesus might have "passed them by" would be to reveal something to them - himself. His divinity and mission had escaped them so far. So, why not give them another bit of evidence? But, why walk on water? Couldn't he have done it another way? It is because the water, to the ancient peoples, was the place of the demons. By walking on it, Jesus reveals that He is Lord of all - earth, heaven, the sky, the sea, and even hell.
He is God.
He is YHWH.
When the Apostles see Jesus, they are frightened thinking He is a ghost. Many times we too are frightened of Jesus coming into our lives, because we don't want to deal with the consequences of saying "yes" to Him fully - because in doing so, we have to give up control (or, rather, the sense of control). They are also frightened because they are not fully dependent upon God, and therefore fear the possibility of another power (a ghost) doing some harm to them. Fear is an emotional reaction, but we need to realize it doesn't have complete control over us. We can still decide to conquer our fears and do the right thing.
Peter does this. In Matthew's account of the Gospel, Peter challenges the ghost "Lord, if it is you, then command me to come to you on the water." Thinking this would keep the ghost quiet and prove it wasn't Jesus might have been Peter's intent. But, then we get a striking command. Jesus merely says, "come."
Peter now has a choice. So do we.
When God comes to us in the storms of our life - the busyness, the pain, the anxiety, the trouble, the brokenness, the insecurities - do we listen for Him beckoning to us to come to Him? And if we hear Him calling, do we have the courage to step out of the boat and walk on water? Do you have courage to do whatever Jesus asks of you, even if it means stepping out into the unknown???
God made you to walk on water.
God wants to pass by us (reveal Himself to us).
Even during the storms.
Even during the time we struggle to move against the wind.
Even in the middle of the night - God comes.
Will you walk on water?
Will you let Him into your boat?