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