Storm in a tea cup? Wednesday after Epiphany – Mark 6:45-52
Mark tells us that, after he has fed five thousand, Jesus dismissed his disciples and went up the mountain to pray (v. 46). This is something Jesus did very often. Jesus’ life was intensely active, yet he always nurtured his communication with God in silence and solitude. He needed to visit this wellspring to nourish his being. We know little of how he prayed, what he said, how he sat or stood. It doesn’t seem to matter. Similarly, with ourselves; how we pray is not as important as that we pray. The good advice of an early Christian writer was, ‘Pray as you can, not as you can’t.’
Jesus sent the twelve ahead to Bethsaida. This was the home of three of the apostles and hence familiar territory. But why does Jesus send his disciples away with such haste? To understand this we need to look at the other Gospels where this text appears. This narrative is also found in Matthew 14:22-33 and John 6:15-21. In John’s account, Jesus withdrew from the crowd because he realised that they wanted to impose a kingship on him that was contrary to his Godly mission. Matthew does not tell us why they were sent but does mention that Peter steps out of the boat in an attempt to walk on the water to Jesus. Mark seems to indicate that Jesus wanted solitude for his time of prayer.
We are told that “he went up THE mountain to pray” (v. 46b). The reference to “the mountain” rather than “a mountain” suggests a special or holy place. In Mark 3:13 he went up “the mountain” where he called and appointed the twelve. Ascending the mountain reminds the reader of Moses going up the mountain to meet God (Exodus 24: 15-18). Mark’s intent may be to connect the story of Jesus to that of Moses.
While on the mountain Jesus sees the disciples struggling on the lake. A strong wind had risen against them so that they were having trouble getting anywhere. Let’s talk about the storm. This isn’t like the violent storm that struck in Mark chapter 4. In his earlier account of Jesus and his disciples at sea, Mark portrayed them as in great danger from a storm (4:35-41) but there is none of that here. There’s no hint that the disciples are in any danger of being capsized or drowned. It is also a story about panic. The disciples are distressed because the winds are contrary, making it difficult for them to make any progress. That however, would be nothing unusual for the fishermen among Jesus’ disciples. They were just facing some tough going. The wind was so strong that they had to strain at the oars, and even then were not getting anywhere. Rather than dangerous, it would’ve just been draining and tiring and that is the point being made
While the disciples were “out on the sea” Jesus was “alone on the land”. While they panic over their situation, they will learn that they are not forsaken for the Lord was watching over them, unseen to them, from the mountain, as he does with us. We too should never be afraid of any danger, knowing that Jesus watches over us with loving compassion.
Watching them panic Jesus decided to walk to them on water. It was the fourth watch of the night, which was between 3-6 am. Jesus came to them meeting them in the midst of the ‘storm’. Jesus did not save the disciples from the land, but came to them to do so. He does not save us from outside our situation, but from within our situation. He came close enough for his disciples to see him, but didn’t impose himself on them. He waited for their invitation before boarding their boat. In like manner, Jesus makes himself available to us in many ways, but allows us the freedom to choose how we will live our lives. He will come to us and save us, but only if we are willing for him to do so. Have you asked Jesus to be in the boat with you?
When the apostles cried out something happened. They were able to let their fear and terror out. They were able to let Jesus know how they felt and the danger they experienced. Most of Jesus’ signs and miracles happen when someone or a group cries out for help from the heart. Jesus is no magician or an easy gift giver. Jesus and ourselves must interact in faith. When we really ask for something, something always happens. What do you really want to ask him for in prayer? What storm in life needs calming? In your life or in another’s? We know and believe that no prayer is unheard but that something good happens in our life when we speak to Jesus from the heart.
However, we are told that they still do not understand who Jesus is. They miss the meaning of the signs he has given. Mark is quick to criticise them for this response. By now they should know better. They’ve seen Jesus do amazing things. They’ve seen him demonstrate his power over and over again, but they still did not get it. And while the crowds might not have seen, or realised the miracle that took place the previous day, the disciples did. They had seen first-hand what Jesus had done with the bread and fish. But just like they had failed to see that he is the one who has power to provide for our needs. They failed to see the Sovereign Lord walking towards them. They did not see God working in the small things, so they had trouble understanding the big things.
If the disciples could get it wrong, so can we. We can fail to trust in God to provide for our needs. It’s so easy to do in our world. The disciples knew they could not provide a meal for the crowd that had gathered. They thought it as impossible, and so they could not trust Jesus to provide for their needs. Today we are called to recognise Jesus for a true disciple recognises Jesus in the storm.