What is recorded in the Bible text?
We return to Mark 6: 45 -53 which we used last month.
45Then he made the disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side towards Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46And when he had taken leave of them, he went off to the mountain to pray. 47When it was evening, the boat was far out on the sea and he was alone on the shore. 48Then he saw that they were tossed about while rowing, for the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night, he came towards them walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them. 49But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out. 50They had all seen him and were terrified. But at once he spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid!” 51He got into the boat with them and the wind died down. They were (completely) astounded. 52They had not understood the incident of the loaves and fishes. On the contrary, their hearts were hardened. 53After making the crossing, they came to land at Gennesaret and tied up there.
If Mark had intended to record precise historical facts the very least we would expect of him is to get the time right. Let’s look at this aspect of our story.
It was necessary to feed the ‘five thousand’ because “it was already very late.” Never-the- less the people were organised, fed, the clean-up done and only then are the disciples sent to the other side. Meanwhile Jesus is busy saying good-bye to ‘five thousand’ people’; “when he had taken leave of them.”
Next Jesus “went off to the mountain to pray.” Did he have far to go? My guess is that he spent some considerable time at prayer, perhaps an hour or two. I will leave it to you to calculate at what time Jesus returned to the shore of the lake. It was probably approaching midnight or later, but the text says the next event took place, “when it was evening,” which it clearly was not. Mark is not trying to report an exact sequence of events like we do when a soccer match is reported: Team A scored in the 32nd minute; Team B equalised in the 55th minute. The winning goal was scored by Team B in the second minute of extra time. “When it was evening” must not be referring to the time at all. Perhaps it takes us back to Gen 1: 1 “there was darkness over the deep”.
If we continue to read this story strictly according our understanding of time we land in a deeper mess. Jesus first saw them “When it was evening”. How did he see in the dark? He saw they were in trouble, so why does he sit watching them struggling all night until “the fourth watch (dawn)” before he goes to their assistance? Mark is using symbolic language teaching us some profound truth. Of course Jesus came at the dawn. He has told us so often that, “I am the light of the world.” (Jn 8: 12)
There are two other links to the Hebrew Scriptures;
About the fourth watch of the night, he came towards them walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them. 49But when they saw him walking on the sea,
Job 9: 9
9He alone stretches out the heavens and treads upon the wave tops of the sea.
It is God who walks on the water. So what is Mark saying here about Jesus?
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50They had all seen him and were terrified. But at once he spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid!”
Exodus 3: 13 – 14
13“But” said Moses to God, “when I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ if they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what am I to tell them?” 14God replied, “I am who am.”
Frequently you will find the name of God expressed in this way in the Gospels – “It is I.”
Fantastic!! “It is I” means far more than, “Hi, it is me, surprised.”
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Our troubles are not over yet!
The gospels testify eloquently that the disciples never really came to a full understanding about Jesus, his teaching (wisdom) or his mission here on earth. If you do not believe me here are a few texts.
Luke 24: 21, 25
Two despondent disciples return home all their hopes dashed to pieces.
21We were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel; and besides all this, it is now the third day since this took place.
25And he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke!”
Can you see Jesus shaking his head and muttering to himself, “You still don’t get it!”
This not understanding gets worse. Just four verses from the end of Matthews’ Gospel we read:
17When they saw him, they worshipped, but some doubted.
How is it possible then for Mark to share so profoundly about Jesus, with such conviction? What happened between Jesus’ death, resurrection and the moment when Mark first put pen to paper, to make this possible?
In next month’s article I will respond to this question.