‘Immediately after this, Jesus insisted that his disciples get back into the boat and head across the lake to Bethsaida, while he sent the people home. After telling everyone good-bye, he went up into the hills by himself to pray.
Late that night, the disciples were in their boat in the middle of the lake, and Jesus was alone on land. He saw that they were in serious trouble, rowing hard and struggling against the wind and waves. About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. He intended to go past them, but when they saw him walking on the water, they cried out in terror, thinking he was a ghost. They were all terrified when they saw him. But Jesus spoke to them at once. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage! I am here!” Then he climbed into the boat, and the wind stopped. They were totally amazed, for they still didn’t understand the significance of the miracle of the loaves. Their hearts were too hard to take it in.’ — Mark 6:45-52
This is one of those Bible passages that Christians don’t often bring up. I know I don’t. I’m not exactly sure why, but I guess because it’s just kind of weird. It features a guy walking on water and then stopping a storm. It kind of sound like a fairy tale. So some Christians (and also some well-meaning non-Christians) have tried to prove it scientifically, like maybe Jesus was walking on ice, not water, because of some natural phenomenon. And so a lot of other Christians try to bring up less strange stories. And non-Christians roll their eyes.
But being a Christian means being honest with the Bible. If it’s being weird, let it be weird. And if it’s being weird to bring up a very important question, think hard about that question. This passage belongs to the Gospel of Mark, and Mark wrote it to answer one, burning question: who is Jesus?
Our passage starts in the middle of something, so let’s backtrack a bit. Jesus has just finished performing a miracle, giving a sermon to thousands of people and then feeding them all from just a few scraps of food. Mark doesn’t mention this, but it seems these people were so in awe of Jesus that they tried to force him to be their King. Jesus refuses, because he knows he needs to die on the cross before becoming King. He then sends the disciples ahead while he goes to pray by himself, probably to talk to God about what had just happened.
This is the Jesus that his disciples had just seen, before they got into the boat. Definitely someone special, someone who was close to God, since he could perform miracles like feeding thousands of people. But also someone who weirdly doesn’t want the job that he clearly should take…?
And then the wind and waves come, and all time for thinking about Jesus is gone. Take down the sail, break out the oars, heave to! Wind’s coming up, get the bail ready just in case.
And then, through the wind and waves, they see… something. Ok, they haven’t rested all day and their eyes are playing tricks on them but… what is that? It’s coming closer, arms and legs, a head. One of the disciples yelps out loud, the panic spreads – they think they’ve seen a ghost.
And of course it’s Jesus, doing something admittedly quite weird – and I like how human the disciples seem in this story, and how relatable. It’s not like seeing a guy walking on water is a very normal thing for them, even after seeing a huge miracle earlier in the day.
But the point is this: they should’ve known better. Hadn’t Jesus just performed a miracle a few hours earlier? And hadn’t he been with them for so long, taught them for so long? So when he walks on water and calms the storm, yes it’s weird, but they should’ve known better. They should’ve known Jesus wasn’t just any miracle-worker, he was something else. By walking on water, Jesus was actually pulling a Moses – he was the second Moses, come to take God’s people out of a second Egypt, across the sea, away from sin and death.
And this passage, in a very meta kind of way, does the same thing for Christians today. Yes, it’s weird. There’s no getting around that. But it also throws huge truths at us. It demands that we answer this burning question: who is Jesus? He’s the Son of God, he loves us, all that… but he also walks on water and calms storms. He shows his authority over creation, and sin, and death, in disturbing, strange ways. It’s hard to be super comfortable with truths like that.
Who is Jesus? It’s not as simple as we would like it to be. And throughout the Gospel of Mark, the only people who can consistently, accurately answer this question are the demons. Peter gives a textbook answer at one point but he clearly doesn’t really get it, and by the end of the book, the only human who can answer the question is the Roman officer who had just ordered his men to murder Jesus.
So this passage, like the rest of Mark, is an invitation to answer this question. And for most of us, we will be disturbed and incredulous and amazed like the disciples, but we need to wrestle with this question. Mark gave up his career to answer this question. And he’s not ok with us giving glib, wishy-washy answers. Jesus is just too disturbing, he says and does things that are too strange (and yet these things are provable) – we can’t simply be comfortable with him, either treating him as just a normal person, or just as an invisible friend in the sky. Mark gives us all this evidence to prove that Jesus really is the Son of God; what is he to you? An imaginary friend? A teacher? A tool to give you success? A miracle worker? A lunatic? Or maybe just nothing? Or will we take up Mark’s challenge and believe he is more than all those, he is actually the Son of God, here to save us from sin and death? And once we believe, what does that even mean? That’s something that we all need to think about.