Now when evening came, the boat was in the middle of the sea; and He was alone on the land. Then He saw then straining at rowing, for the wind was against them. Now about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea, and would have passed them by. And when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw Him and were troubled. But immediately He talked with them and said to them, "Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid." Then He went up into the boat to them, and the wind ceased. And they were greatly amazed in themselves beyond measure, and marveled. For they had not understood about the loaves, because their heart was hardened.
When they had crossed over, they came to the land of Gennesaret and anchored there. And when they came out of the boat, immediately the people recognized Him, ran through that whole surrounding region, and began to carry about on beds those who were sick to wherever they heard He was. Wherever He entered, into villages, cities, or the country, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged Him that they might just touch the hem of His garment. And as many as touched Him were made well.
- Mark 6:47-56
Yesterday, we read that, having returned from their first mission, the apostles gathered to Jesus and told Him all things, both what they had done and what they had taught. And He said to them, "Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while." For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat. So they departed to a deserted place in the boat by themselves. But the multitudes saw them departing, and many knew Him and ran there on foot from all the cities. They arrived before them and came together to Him. And Jesus, when He came out, saw a great multitude and was moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd. So He began to teach them many things. When the day was now far spent, His disciples came to Him and said, "This is a deserted place, and already the hour is late. Send them away, that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy themselves bread; for they have nothing to eat." But He answered and said to them, "You give them something to eat." And they said to Him, "Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give them something to eat?" But He said to them, "How many loaves do you have? Go and see." And when they found out they said, "Five, and two fish." Then He commanded them to make them all sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in ranks, in hundreds and fifties. And when He had taken the five loaves and the two fish, He looked up to heaven, blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to His disciples to set before them; and the two fish He divided among them all. So they all ate and were filled. And they took up twelve baskets full of fragments and of the fish. Now those who had eaten the loaves were about five thousand men. Immediately He made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while He sent the multitude away. And when He had sent them away, He departed to the mountain to pray.
Now when evening came, the boat was in the middle of the sea; and He was alone on the land. Then He saw then straining at rowing, for the wind was against them. Now about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea, and would have passed them by. And when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw Him and were troubled. But immediately He talked with them and said to them, "Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid." Then He went up into the boat to them, and the wind ceased. My study bible points out that this is the second time that Jesus permits the disciples to be caught in a storm. (See the reading Where is your faith? for the first time this happened, as they set sail across the Sea of Galilee.) In the first storm, Jesus was with the disciples in the boat; He was sleeping on a pillow. This time the disciples are alone. My study bible says that "in this way, Christ strengthens their faith that He will always be with them in the midst of the storms of life." "It is I" is translated literally as "I Am" which is the divine Name of God (see John 8:58). In this way Christ - as He exemplifies power over nature - suggests to the fearful disciples the absolute and divine authority over their lives that is in Him as Son of God.
And they were greatly amazed in themselves beyond measure, and marveled. For they had not understood about the loaves, because their heart was hardened. My study bible says that "knowing Christ is a matter of the heart, not merely the intellect. When our hearts are illumined by faith in God, they are open to receive His presence and grace. In the ascetic writings of the Church, the heart is known as the 'seat of knowledge.'"
When they had crossed over, they came to the land of Gennesaret and anchored there. And when they came out of the boat, immediately the people recognized Him, ran through that whole surrounding region, and began to carry about on beds those who were sick to wherever they heard He was. Wherever He entered, into villages, cities, or the country, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged Him that they might just touch the hem of His garment. And as many as touched Him were made well. My study bible says that Christ permits miracles through touch in order to show that His very body is life-giving. We refer also to the story of the woman with the twelve-year blood flow, who touched His garment in the crowds and was immediately healed (Mark 5:25-29; see Your faith has made you well).
In today's reading we have several extraordinary displays of Christ's divine power: He walks on water to the disciples (as they have been instructed to set off ahead of Him in the boat while He remained behind in prayer), and people are healed through even by touching His clothing. There's an implication in the first story in today's reading that Jesus was walking toward the disciples' goal across the Sea of Galilee, and would have passed them by, as if He wanted to go ahead before them in order to be able to be there waiting for them on the other side. It's an interesting thing to picture and to think about: suppose we all understood that on every journey we take that's inspired by the Word, He's already there ahead of us, traveling on our course, and we'll find Him waiting wherever we're going? That's a good way to think about God, about the Source of all that is, about the Presence that always was, always is, and always will be. That's what we enter into relationship with when we become children by adoption, and when we engage in the dialogue of prayer. It's a hint about our understanding of Scripture and the famous places in which we read the phrase, "In the beginning." We can turn to Genesis and read, "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." But, we need to understand that Creation is not really "the beginning." God was already present before the beginning, in order to begin the Creation (of the heaven and the earth). We can turn to John's Gospel, and read it even more explicitly, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." "In the beginning was" tells us literally that Christ already was before the beginning. This is eternal reality, before what we understand as Creation, in which He was, is, and will be. To my mind this is what is illustrated for the disciples in this story. Wherever they are sent, whatever they are sent to do, however they go, and wherever they are going, He was there for them, He is there for them, He will be there for them. It's my belief that this is the way we must consider any "new beginning" that we make in life, if we make it prayerfully and in faith. He's was with us before the "new beginning," is with us in the midst of that new page in life, and will be there in the future beyond. That is, it's a guideline for how we go through all times in our lives, how we make plans, and what we set as goals. Most importantly, and perhaps really the whole point of this passage, is that this doesn't mean we're completely free of bumps in the road and fearful travels. In fact, one ancient commentator, Origen, says that this repeated "testing" of the disciples (remember, they have already gone through a storm when He was in the boat with them) is precisely to strengthen their faith: that without some form of risk there's no exercise in the capacity to grow in faith. The picture we get here, therefore, is one of our own spiritual journey in life as disciples of Christ: we're not going to have a simply easy road, without risk and without our own fears to deal with. But He is always there, before we begin, with us where we are, and waiting where we're going. This is the eternal reality of the Christ, the God who is with us. It's a strange thing to consider, but Jesus' domination of the elements of the earth here is precisely what illustrates the divinity that somehow mingles with us in our lives, even as we remain human beings who have our weaknesses to deal with although we have His help and guidance always leading the way, literally "before" us anywhere we may go. And this is the relationship we really enter into in discipleship, a life with Christ. It's the meaning and purpose of the Eucharist, wherein elements of the world that we use to nurture ourselves become His mystical body sacrificed for us, which we take into ourselves. We are meant for this union, this reconciliation, this cooperative work -- even as we still have our own vulnerabilities and imperfections to experience with Him. In the healings by those who touch His clothing, we can see a similar statement of the divine with us and working with us: those people first make the effort to come to Him, run to Him, just as did the people who were fed in the wilderness in yesterday's reading. Together with their effort, Christ works in His divine way. And all of it is about faith: starting with a mustard seed's worth, and God's work strengthening that faith in us as we seek the further journey with Him: before, during, and always. Can we understand what this divine reality is? And that it is always present to us and always was and will be? A great thing to try to understand, a greater thing to rely on and experience for oneself. Perhaps more importantly, we must understand how our human experience and struggle will always be present with us even as we walk with Him, as He leads us through to places we never thought we could go. Let's remember His question to the disciples in their first frightening crossing of the sea: "Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?" Let us remember He is working also to strengthen that faith in us, via our own experiences as disciples.