Have you ever been at a social gathering where you did not know all the guests? It can lead to some interesting situations.
You are standing there, at a graduation party, talking to someone who introduces himself as John. When you share how you know the graduate, you find out you and John both have children in the same school. That launches you into a conversation about your youngest son. He has become depressed lately, distracted. You wonder if he has fallen into the wrong crowd, and you start to talk about how you are handling the situation.
Then, in the middle of your conversation, the host comes by and says, “Oh, I’ve seen you’ve met Dr. Ford. He’s world famous as a family therapist.” For a moment, you want to crawl in a hole. You had no idea to whom you were talking. But his humble demeanor, his invitation to go back to your story, even his offering of some advice, all encourage you to think that perhaps he cares and can help you in this situation.
Something like that is happening in our reading this morning. The disciples are getting a glimpse of who Jesus really is. As you look at the reading, notice how there are two contrasting moments of recognition in the story: One on land and the other at sea.
At the end of the reading, Jesus and the disciples land at Gennesaret. Here, notice how Mark informs us that the people, “...immediately recognized Him” (6:53). Such immediate recognition led to immediate action. They gathered their sick and laid them in the streets, positioning them so that, even if Jesus did not touch them, they could touch the fringe of His garment and they would be healed.
Jesus is known by the people to be one who heals, and, because of that recognition, their lives change in dramatic ways. The sick, normally cared for indoors in their beds, are brought out into the light of day. The marketplace, once filled with bartering and goods, becomes filled with prayerful pleading and sickness. Jesus has changed the shape of their world and filled their markets with hope and healing.
Jesus has changed the shape of their world and filled their markets with hope and healing.
At the beginning of the reading, however, we have a different scene. It is a scene where the disciples lack recognition. It is late in the day and the disciples are not on land but at sea. They are there because Jesus has sent them to go before Him (45). As they struggle to cross the sea, Jesus comes walking toward them on the water. Mark tells us Jesus, “...meant to pass by them” (48).
The phrase is strange and invites theological reflection. In the Old Testament, passing by was a way of divine revelation. God passes by Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:6), God passes by Elijah at the mouth of the cave (1 Kings 19:11), and God passes by Job (Job 9:11). In each case there is a divine revelation, whether it is recognized (Moses and Elijah) or not (Job).
Jesus intended for His disciples to see Him, to know Him as more than a healer or a feeder or a teacher. Jesus desired to reveal Himself to His disciples as the Lord of Creation: The One who could walk on the waters of the sea.
Their lack of recognition, however, places the boat in even greater turmoil. Not only are they fighting against the winds, now they are also fighting against ghosts and the terrors of the night. They see Jesus but they do not recognize Him. They hear His voice, but they do not trust His words. As Mark says, “Their hearts were hardened” (52).
Jesus desired to reveal Himself to His disciples as the Lord of Creation: The One who could walk on the waters of the sea.
And what were Jesus’ words? “Have courage. It is I. Do not be afraid” (50). In the words Jesus speaks, He locates His self-revelation in that middle-space between courage and fear. When the One who created the world comes to you, there is reason for courage and never reason to fear.
Because the One who created the world has promised to come and restore it. He has promised to come and bear the punishment for sin, so we no longer fear God’s wrath. He has promised to come and defeat the forces of evil so we can live in courageous hope. Jesus is the One who dies to bear sin and rises to bring restoration and He comes to us now in His Word. Not in the middle of the sea, not in the middle of the marketplace, but in the middle of your daily life. God has come through His Word to reveal who Jesus truly is: Your Savior and your Lord.
That, then, is the wonder of this text. Notice how Mark contrasts these two realities. On land, Jesus is known as a healer, and it changes everyone’s lives. On the sea, Jesus is not known as the creator of all things, and the disciples respond in fear. What happens now, in your life? Now that you know who Jesus is, the creator and redeemer and restorer of all things, how will this change your life, on land or at sea... at home or at work... in silent prayer or friendly conversation?
It may be that we bring out our sick into our prayers, trusting in the God of all healing. It may be that we bring out our bibles, trusting in Jesus who teaches us how to live by faith. It may be that we enter the world differently, with courage and without fear, because Jesus is with us. The One who created all things has entered our lives and walks with us out into the world.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Mark 6:45-56.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Mark 6:45-56.
Lectionary Podcast- Dr. Arthur Just of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Mark 6:45-56.