Transportation options across the Sea of Galilee were limited in the first century. With no automobiles, no highways, and no public means of transport, a person could cross the sea by boat—eight miles at the widest point, or hoof it around the sea shore—more than three times that distance to the same spot.
In Mark 6 after the feeding of the five-thousand Jesus sent his disciples back across the lake to Bethsaida the easy way, in the boat, while he stayed back to dismiss the crowds. “So how did Jesus plan to get there?” you might ask.
Jesus had other options, options unavailable to the disciples and the crowds, or anyone else for that matter. “About the fourth watch of the night,” between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m., “he came to them walking on the sea.” We might expect Mark to embark into the story of how Peter joined him on the water, as Matthew does (Matthew 14). We might expect Mark to surprise us by saying that when Jesus joined them in the boat it immediately bumped upon the opposite shore, as John tells us (John 6). What Mark tells us instead is that Jesus “meant to pass by them but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, for they all saw him and were terrified.” (Mark 6:48-49)
Occasionally I’ll be up early in the morning and forget that I’m the only one in the house awake until I’ve made enough racket that bedroom doors start slamming shut—oops! Is that what’s going on with Jesus? Wouldn’t you think that if Jesus was intending to be sneaky, or at least inconspicuous, he’d be a little better at it? This is Jesus we’re talking about after all. He is God. If he wants to walk on water, he walks on water. If he wants to pass by unnoticed, can’t he conceal himself?
I’ve never had satisfactory answers to those questions. Not that they have threatened to undermine my faith in Jesus, but they have bounced around in my head on several occasions over the years as I’ve happened over this section of scripture in my devotional life or in my sermon preparations. I’m sure you’ve got questions like that too, questions you ponder occasionally about Jesus, about faith, about life with the Lord, that you hope someday to find resolution to.
Each year the worshippers at Holy Cross provide for my Continuing Education and this summer I used that privilege to take a class in the Gospel of Mark, with Dr. James Voelz, who is finishing a two volume scholarly commentary on Mark’s Gospel for Concordia Publishing House. In just a brief aside in that class he pointed us to Job 9.
Job had a myriad of unanswered questions for God, most revolving around the sudden collapse of his livelihood, his health, and the onslaught of grief at loosing ten children all at once in a freak natural disaster. In his struggle Job says this about God, “He alone stretches out the heavens and treads on the waves of the sea.” (Job 9:8) and “When he passes me, I cannot see him. When he goes by, I cannot perceive him.” In other words, from Job’s perspective in his distress, when he needs God most, Job is not able to see him, as if God hides from him.
Ah, but in Jesus, the God who alone treads on the waves of the sea allows himself to be seen. He makes himself known, accessible to us. The hidden God is revealed in Jesus. We may not have answers to every question we face in our life of faith, especially tragedies, hardships, and distress, but we do know this: Jesus is not so sneaky so as to hide himself from us. As he was with his disciples in the midst of the sea, he is with us as well. “Surely I am with you always,” (Matthew 28:20) he said, and he meant it. Do you see him?