Set aside, for the moment, the scientific reasons why the Israelites couldn’t have crossed a dry Red Sea, split open when Moses hit it with his staff, or why Elijah and then Elisha split the Jordan River with a rolled-up cloak, or why Jesus couldn’t have literally walked on water. Look even beyond the symbolic significance of anyone who demonstrated power over that most precious and uncontrollable substance, water. Let’s ask the deeper questions, rather than getting bogged down in the mud of our own rational minds.
Mark’s version of Jesus walking on water says the disciples, having been sent on in the boat, struggled against an adverse wind. Things got no better when they saw a ghost walking on water, which terrified them. Jesus spoke words of comfort: “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” He got in the boat and the wind calmed. (Mark 6:45-52)
But Jesus intended to pass them by. As they used to say in the sci-fi stories, “This does not compute.” Jesus was the one who’d sent them out in the boat near nightfall. He saw and felt the wind they had been fighting for hours. And yet the narrative suggests if they hadn’t noticed him, he would have kept on walking to beat them to shore. Where’s the loving and compassionate Jesus we’re familiar with? What could possibly be more important to him than their well-being and safety?
I don’t have an answer, which is why I’m writing. Maybe Jesus was messing with them, or enjoying the feel of walking on water, the way that penguins appear to have fun on snowbank slides. Maybe he was praying, or was weary and giving himself some time off. After all, he’d originally invited the disciples for a sort of mini-retreat away from the crowds; the crowds followed, however, and after they listened to Jesus’ teaching, they needed to be fed. Jesus multiplied bread and fish, and the disciples distributed it to thousands. Not much of a vacation.
I also find it interesting that the wind doesn’t die down until after Jesus clambers into the boat with them. It’s tempting to make it a nice, tidy story, with the moral being the need for Jesus’ presence in our storm-tossed boats. That’s true, of course, but I want to go deeper.
Why was Jesus going to pass them by? Is it possible that the things that concerned them—and the things that concerns me, like a blood draw or a check-up—is not on his agenda? The adverse wind, the toiling all night to get nowhere are apparently insignificant to Jesus. But their fear of him does matter.
I have a need for tidy endings, so indulge me here. Maybe the lesson is that we need not fear Jesus, no matter how inexplicable his actions—and if we follow him long enough, those actions will at some point make no sense. Jesus’ priorities are not ours, but his apparent indifference to our plight is only a shadow.