The Gospels are filled with the most intriguing and edifying details. I find that they are so odd and unexpected sometimes that they confirm the authenticity of the Gospel writers’ accounts.
Here in Mark 6:48 we come across one of those intriguing and at first baffling details. Here’s the set up to the story: Jesus, with the help of the disciples feeds the 5000 hungry men. He then makes the disciples get in a boat and go to the other side in Bethsaida, while He sends the multitude away, after which He departs to the mountain to pray. While He’s praying, the disciples meanwhile are somewhere in the middle of the Sea of Galilee. Sometime between 3 and 6 a.m., with the wind against them and straining to make any progress, Jesus comes skating by them on the water.
Now what would you think if you saw someone apparently walking on water? In that day and age you’d naturally assume He was a ghost. But that’s not the detail that intrigues me: I expect that of the disciples.
What’s really interesting is that Jesus, seeing them straining at rowing and walking on the water “would have passed them by” (verse 48.) Jesus was going to just whiz on by them without even so much as stopping to say “Shalom.”
Now apparently, if they could see Jesus, then He could see them. Having grown up in that region, He knew not only the difficult time the disciples might have but also the possibility that the winds might become a more serious storm that would threaten their lives.
And what does He do? He would have passed them by.
But He didn’t. Why not?
St. Augustine explains it this way: “What is the explanation, therefore, of his wish to bypass those persons whom nevertheless he was prepared to encourage when they were in despair? His intent in passing by them was to serve the purpose of eliciting those outcries in response to which he would then come to bring relief.”
Immediately after they cry out, He talks to them and says “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid” (verse 50.)
This incident is a picture of how we should turn to Christ and how He responds to our cries. St. Augustine’s explanation is worth pondering. Isn’t it true that we have many difficulties in life and that in many of them we never cry out to God? It may even be the unrecognized presence of God Himself that is troubling us, as He stirs up our lives. Our response is all-important. When you are in trouble, cry out to God.
The most important thing of all, though, is to recognize Jesus Christ in your life. The disciples, not having the Holy Spirit of the fullness of Christ yet, didn’t recognize Him at first. Even after He calms the waves and delivers Him, they still don’t understand, because their heart was hardened (verse 52.)
If we cry out to Jesus Christ, He says the following to you: “Do not be afraid!” and “Be courageous.” Once again, I think the NKJV doesn’t quite capture it, when it says “Be of good cheer.” What Jesus really seems to be saying, in keeping with “Don’t be afraid,” is “Have courage!”
How can we not be afraid in times of serious trouble? How can we even have courage when forces larger than ourselves are against us? By calling on Jesus Christ and recognizing who He is.
I’m not sure any of the English translations get verse 50 entirely right. When Jesus tells the disciples not to be afraid and to have courage, He says this because He says “I AM.” Not just “It is I,” but “I AM.” Jesus isn’t saying something like “There’s no need to fear – Underdog is here.” He’s saying “I AM.” In Greek, He is saying ego eimi. Jesus is saying “Be courageous and not afraid, because I AM is here with you.” And I AM is the name God used to reveal Himself to Moses. I AM is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I AM, ego eimi, is Yahweh, God Almighty.
This is why we are not to be afraid: I AM is with us if we call on Him in our problems. This is how we can be courageous: when we call on the name of Jesus Christ, He will send the Holy Spirit, the Encourager to give us His courage and strength.
Don’t be worried if God doesn’t seem to be present in the problems you have today. He is right there, possibly planning on walking by, but also waiting for you to call on Him.
Whatever your problems, call on the Lord, and He will come to You and say “Don’t be afraid! Have courage!”
Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, I am rowing but getting nowhere today. My strength is gone, and my courage and resolve are quickly weakening. I cry out to You today in all of my problems, knowing that I am too small to solve them and knowing that You are willing and able to deliver me, if You desire. Come to me today, reveal Yourself to me in my problems. Deliver me in due time that I might once again thank You and praise Your holy Name. Amen.
Resolution and Point for Meditation: I resolve to reflect on the problem in my life that is most troubling me and to spend time calling out to Jesus for help. As He reveals Himself to me in my problem, I will remember to recognize Him, thank Him, and praise Him.
© 2012 Fr. Charles Erlandson