- 45 And straightway he constrained his disciples to get into the ship, and to go to the other side before unto Bethsaida, while he sent away the people. 46 And when he had sent them away, he departed into a mountain to pray. 47 And when even was come, the ship was in the midst of the sea, and he alone on the land. 48 And he saw them toiling in rowing; for the wind was contrary unto them: and about the fourth watch of the night he cometh unto them, walking upon the sea, and would have passed by them.
- 49 But when they saw him walking upon the sea, they supposed it had been a spirit, and cried out: 50 For they all saw him, and were troubled. And immediately he talked with them, and saith unto them, Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid. 51 And he went up unto them into the ship; and the wind ceased: and they were sore amazed in themselves beyond measure, and wondered. 52 For they considered not the miracle of the loaves: for their heart was hardened.
- Compare: Matthew 14:22-27; John 6:15-21
How Jesus Deals With Another Storm
Here we have another popular and visual story of Jesus, this time with him walking on water. It is common for artists to portray Jesus on the water, stilling the storm as he did in chapter 4. The combination of Jesus’ calmness in the face of the power of nature along with his working another miracle that amazes his disciples has long been appealing to believers.
One can surmise that walking on water was the plan all along — after all, there doesn’t appear to be a lot of reason for Jesus to be the one sending the people away. Granted, there are a lot of them, but if the teachings are over then he can simply say goodbye and go on his way. Of course, one can also imagine that he really would have wanted some time to pray and meditate — it’s not as though he seems to get a great deal of time alone. That may have even been a motivation for sending his disciples off earlier in the chapter to teach and preach.
What is Jesus’ purpose in walking across the sea? Is it simply faster or easier? The text says that he “would have passed by them,” suggesting that if they hadn’t seen him and had continued struggling through the night, he would have gotten to the far shore ahead them and and been waiting. Why? Was he just looking forward to seeing the looks on their faces when the found him already there?
In fact, the purpose of Jesus’ walking on water had nothing to do with getting across the sea and everything to do with Mark’s audience. They lived in a culture where there were many claims about various figures’ divinity and a common feature of having divine powers was the ability to walk on water. Jesus walked on water because Jesus had to walk on water, otherwise it would have been difficult for the early Christians to insist that their god-man was just as powerful as others.
The disciples appear to be a very superstitious lot. They have seen Jesus work miracles, they have seen Jesus drive unclean spirits out of the possessed, they have been given the authority to do similar things, and they have had their own experiences in healing and driving out unclean spirits. Yet despite all of this, as soon as they see what they think might be a spirit on the water, they go into conniptions.
The disciples also don’t appear to be very bright, either. Jesus proceeds to calm the storm and still the waters, just as he did in chapter 4; yet for some reason, the disciples are “amazed in themselves beyond measure.” Why? It’s not as though they haven’t seen similar things before. Only three were there (Peter, James, and John) when Jesus raised a girl from the dead, but the others should have been aware of what happened.
According to the text, they didn’t think about or understand the “miracle of the loaves,” and as a consequence, their hearts were “hardened.” Why hardened? Pharaoh’s heart was hardened by God to ensure that more and more miracles would be worked and thus the glory of God would be made manifest — but the end result was more and more suffering for the Egyptians. Is there something similar going on there? Are the disciples’ hearts being hardened so that Jesus can be made to look even better?