Today Jesus walks on water.
Jesus has just lived through a good bit of trauma: he was rejected at Nazareth, practically run out of town, his cousin is murdered and his head ends up on a plate, the disciples go get his body and I assume they have a funeral, and then Jesus feeds the 5,000. I am imagining if this guy is an introvert, just the feeding of the 5,000 is “people overdose.” So he retreats. He escapes from the world for a moment.
The disciples get in the boat while Jesus dismissed the crowd. Then after saying farewell he goes up on a mountain to pray. We are told “Jesus was alone on the land when he saw that they were straining.”
Mark’s themes of messianic secret and the suffering servant have intrigued pastors like me for years. I love Mark! And the flow of story is just one great aspect. In the Marcan version there are no details about Peter or anyone else walking on the water out to Jesus. The focus is not on the water walking at all. It is the tension between being alone and togetherness.
Jesus sees they are in trouble, and realizes it is easier to encounter things together. They saw him walking out there and thought he was a ghost; they cried out; he spoke to them and said “Don’t be afraid.” And that is the end of it. He got into the boat with them and the wind ceased.
The church today has its fears too. Some worry only of division. Others worry only about the past, trying to reclaim the 1960s. Others worry only about purity. These groups want to wave a magic wand and have people magically come together in peace and harmony. Jesus walking on the water, and then entering the boat, flies in the face of all that. He is implying togetherness is the most essential piece, even if it means getting in the boat with these monkeys I disagree with.
I am in a position in the presbytery that means just this. For 80 years we have been a dysfunctional presbytery, and our history just about guarantees that the same thing will happen to me as the last dozen or so presbytery workers: “We spend a lot of time and energy trying to throw one another out of the boat.” It really doesn’t matter how good of a job I do – it is just a matter of time before our long-standing dysfunction finds its way to my desk and the blame game begins all over again. Oh, I have hope that we will get better and get over ourselves, but probably not in my lifetime if my understanding of family systems holds true.
Nevertheless, Jesus call comes to me…and to us all.
Jesus enters right in the midst of chaos and confusion, and that was precisely the time to get in the boat with them. It was not the time to bail, but the opposite. Right when our instincts say it is time to bail, Jesus comes along and points to a different reality.
We follow a savior who demands that we think clearly, not panic, and stay in the boat.
And so we continue on.