This marvelous event happens shortly before dawn on the day after Jesus fed the 5,000 with 5 loaves of bread and two fishes. The evening before, after Jesus had sent his disciples ahead of him in a boat for Bethsaida and dismissed the crowds to go to their homes, he went alone up on the mountainside to pray. Alone then, he watched the disciples straining against their oars, for they were rowing against a heavy wind. Then he went up the mountainside by himself to pray.
As the dawn was in the offing, it’s twilight hinted above the horizon, all of the disciples see what they think is a ghost walking on the lake and they cry out in fear. Jesus, noticing their fear speaks out to them saying, “Take courage! It is I. Do not be afraid.” Then he climbs into the boat and the sea and the wind grows calm. As Mark tells us, “They were completely amazed.” (verse 51) But Mark tell us that their amazement is related to the fact that, “they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.” (verse 52)
In this passage we are given two things to think about and pray over. The experience of the Real Presence of God in our lives, is overwhelming, yes, even frightening. That the God of the universe would make himself known to us so intimately, so personally, makes us cry out in fear. Our minds reel with incomprehension, “How could this be?” Such a thing is beyond us. But Jesus speaks to us personally here too. “Take courage! It is I. Do not be afraid.” What we encounter here is the great mystery of God’s intimate love for us. He does not want us to be afraid. Indeed, he wants us to take courage knowing that he is with us, that he will always be with us. If we come to know him and to believe in him, we will never have reason to fear anything ever again. In other words, he is no ghost. He is real, and he is with us, intimately and personally. He will never abandon us, especially when we are “struggling against heavy winds.”
The second thing is a personal challenge for each one of us. Like the disciples, up to the time of this event, we may be following Jesus because we are intrigued, even excited about the things that he says and does. We are attracted to the power of his words. He makes us think about things that we have never thought about before. He makes us see things in new ways. But those are surface things. Though we are impressed and drawn to the things he does, is it possible that our hearts are hardened, like the disciples? Do we really understand who Jesus really is? Do we really understand what he is asking of us? Have we really understood the implications of God’s presence among us in Jesus? What does his coming among us in the flesh tell us about ourselves? What does his presence tell us about how we are to be with, and for, our brothers and sisters, and all who are suffering? What does it tell us about the width, the breadth, the height and the depth of God’s forgiving love? And how we are commanded to love and to forgive as he does? Yes, coming to “understand” the implications of Jesus’ incarnation can be frightening. But he is no ghost. While he is the Alpha and the Omega, the very Ground of Being, he let go of that to become one of us, in the flesh. (See Philippians 2:6-8) Because of the reality of this great mystery, we can believe in him with confidence, without fear. We can be courageous in our faith. The Almighty is with us! Do not be afraid!
Lord, we believe; help our unbelief. Soften our hearts. Give us the grace of an ever-deepening understanding of your presence in our lives, so that we will no longer fear, but courageously proclaim you to the world with our lives. We pray this in your most holy name, Jesus. Amen!
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