Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Why did Jesus almost walk past the boat?

The gospels tell us that Jesus walked upon the sea (Matt 14:25; Mark 6:48; John 6:19). The only other person in Scripture who walks upon the sea is God. In Job 9:8, Job describes God as follows: “Who alone stretches out the heavens, and tramples down the waves of the sea.” The Greek translation (LXX) of this verse reads as follows, “Who alone has stretched out the heavens, and walks on the sea as on firm ground.” (The Greek words for “walk,” “on,” and “sea” are the same words used in the gospels.)

What I find striking, however, is that Job 9:8 occurs in the context of Job’s despair over God’s transcendence. Job seeks to argue his case before God, but God is so high above him and so far beyond him that Job knows he has no hope in pursuing his litigation. Job exclaims, “Were He to pass by me, I would not see Him; were He to move past me, I would not perceive Him”  (9:11).

In contrast, Jesus not only “walks on the sea as on firm ground”; he is also visible to his disciples. Moreover, he speaks to them, comforts them, moves towards them, and gets in the boat with them. In other words, Jesus not only demonstrates God’s power; he also demonstrates God’s presence. Jesus is the God who walks on the water, but he is also the friend who is with us in our trouble and distress.

This connection with Job 9 may help explain a rather odd feature of Mark’s account:
And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He 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. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; have no fear.” And he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. 
Note that Mark states, “He meant to pass by them.” Why would Mark include this statement, which seems to be at odds with his previous statement that Jesus “came to them”? I think Mark may be echoing Job 9:8-11. (The words used for “saw” and “pass by” in Mark 6:48-49 are the same Greek verbs used in Job 9:11.) Mark’s point may be that the mere sight of Jesus walking on the water should have been enough to calm the hearts of the disciples, even though the sea remained stormy. The vision of Jesus trampling the waves should have been enough to assure the disciples that in his person the power of God was present with them.

No comments: