Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 After saying farewell to them, he went up on the mountain to pray.
47 When evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. 48 When he saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the sea. He intended to pass them by. 49 But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; 50 for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” 51 Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, 52 for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.
53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. 54 When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, 55 and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.
This story from Mark reminds us of the first crossing narrative where the destination is the “other side.” The notes from chapter 4 can be read here.
The same metaphors and patterns apply.
Two quotes from Myers:
“Their common destination (4:35; 6:47), ‘the other side,’ represents passage to gentile territory: symbolic transit to a symbolic local, a journey to the unknown, the foreign, the ‘other side’ of humanity (Myers, 195).”
“These harrowing see stories intend to dramatize the difficulties facing the kingdom community as it tries to overcome the institutionalized social divisions between Jew and gentile. Through this metaphorical action the community struggles to make the passage to integration (hence the difficulty is always in route to the Gentile sure) (Myers, 197).”
Old Testament Connections
There are subtle allusions to the Old Testament woven into this story. For those familiar with the story of Israel and God’s actions on their behalf, these allusions connect Jesus to the pattern of what God has been doing all along in reaching out to the people of Israel. In this moment of crossing to the other side, Mark demonstrates that God is reaching across the boundaries of humanity and embracing all people the the rhythm of the kingdom.
“He (Jesus) intended to pass them by (v. 48),” should not be read as if Jesus were ignoring the struggles of the disciples. It is an allusion to Moses’ encounter with God at Sinai in Exodus 33:
Moses said, “Show me your glory, I pray.” 19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The Lord’;[a] and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.” 21 And the Lord continued, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; 22 and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; 23 then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.” Exodus 33:18-23
Here Jesus is not abandoning the disciples, he will reach out in their need. Mark connects this moment to one of God’s appearances in Israel’s past.
The next allusion comes from Jesus himself. His words to the disciples, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid,” contain another glimpse of God’s saving work. The phrase “It is I,” it the Greek phrase ego eimi - literally translated “I am.” This phrase takes us back to Exodus, to Moses at the bush in the wilderness:
“But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” 15 God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’:
This is my name forever,
and this my title for all generations.”
An audience familiar with the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint (LXX), would recognized the ego eimi present in God’s response to Moses in verse 14. “I AM has sent you.”
Jesus evokes the divine name, connecting his ministry to who God is and what God does in reaching out to those in need. Here Mark connects God’s saving actions in Israel’s story to the movement into gentile territory, demonstrating that God is reaching out not only to Israel, but to the whole world.
The wind and the sea connect this moment to primordial chaos in the mythological traditions of Israel and other cultures. God orders the primordial waters of chaos in the Genesis 1 creation epic.
The Disciples Astounded
The disciples are confused by this moment. Mark tells us that “they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened (v 52).” We will return to this motif in chapter 8 after the second feeding story.
Jesus and the disciples do not make it to the “other side” in this episode. They land in Gennesaret, on the Jewish side of the lake. They are back in the home territory. Mark reports that Jesus us able to heal many. The movement is going strong.
Questions for Modern-Day Disciples
For this episode, I repeat the questions I posed at the first crossing story. They are important and need repeating.
- Where do we encounter resistance in our following of Jesus?
- What is the “other side” in our life or context?
- How does Jesus help us to overcome the storms?