Jesus sends the crowd away–probably he was hoping to defuse their growing idea that he was a political Messiah who was going to lead a revolution against the Roman authorities. He sends the apostles across the water in a boat and goes into the mountains to pray. Then there are some remarkable details: Jesus is on the shore. It is between three and six in the morning and he sees them rowing against the wind. How did he see them in the pitch dark? Is this another sign from Mark of his hidden divinity?
Then Jesus comes to them walking on the waves. Do you know some modern scholars find this miracle so disturbingly incredible that they have actually removed it from the lectionaries of their churches? Modernists are so embarrassed by this astounding miracle that they get rid of it. They know they can’t take it out of the Bible, but they omit it from the Mass readings!
Try to be astounded by this as the apostles were! Be scandalized by this outrageous miracle claim. What is going on here! Nobody can walk on water! What is this strange detail in the story that “he meant to pass them by”? What is the meaning of this detail?
The whole story refers back to the Old Testament and is packed full of detail that reveals Jesus as God incarnate. Firstly, in walking on the sea and calming the storm again Jesus shows his authority over nature. Especially he takes control over the chaos of the sea. Remember that God brought all of creation out of the watery chaos at the beginning. So when Jesus takes control over the storm and the sea he is showing his divine power. This is what the Lord God does according to Ps 65:8, 89.10 and 107.29. Furthermore, when he walks on the waves he is fulfilling Psalm 77.20 which says, “Through the sea was your way. Your path was through the mighty waters.” Job 9:8 also refers to the Lord who “makes his footpath on the waves of the sea”.
There is more. Why does Jesus “mean to pass by”? This is a reference to Moses epiphany of God on Mount Sinai in the Book of Exodus. Moses asks to see the glory of God. God says no man may see his glory in its fullness. See how this connects to the “Messianic Secret” in Mark? God is hidden from Moses. God is hidden in the man Jesus. At that point God agrees to “pass by” Moses and he pronounces his name to Moses. (This is in Exodus 34.6-8) Sure enough, Jesus, after he “means to pass by” calls out “Do not be afraid!” This is a typical formula when God or angel meets a mortal human. The first thing they say is “Do not be afraid!”. Then Jesus says, “It is I”. The Greek construction here is “ego eimi” which is the exact formulation for the Greek translations of the Old Testament name for God which is “I AM.”
This story, then is the climax of Jesus revealing himself as God incarnate. In the story of the feeding of the 5,000 he does what God does. Now he confirms who he is by taking control of the sea and storm, by walking on the waves of the sea–which is what the OT says God does, and most specifically by “passing by and giving them his name–which is the divine name.”
It is strange (since Mark’s gospel is rooted in Peter’s experience) that we do not have the account of Peter walking on the waves to Jesus. This is in Matthew’s version of the story. We can only assume that Mark considered this to be extraneous to his main teaching point about the divinity of Jesus or that this version of the story came to Mark from a source other than Peter.
A few other details are worth noting. Despite the miracle of the feeding of the 5000 and Jesus walking on the water Mark says the apostles hearts were hardened. They did not get it. Jesus then returns to his ministry. The crowds continue to grow and notice that they reach out to touch the tassel on his prayer apron. This is probably what the woman who was healed of her hemorrhage did also. Clearly word had got around from her healing that you could be healed just by touching the hem of his garment. Mark is probably making another symbolic point here: Jesus was God clothed in human flesh. It was like his human flesh was God’s clothing. So touching the hem of his garment is to reach out to God who is enrobed in human flesh.