Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. 47 And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. 48 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, 49 but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, 50 for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” 51 And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, 52 for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.
53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored to the shore. 54 And when they got out of the boat, the people immediately recognized him 55 and ran about the whole region and began to bring the sick people on their beds to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well. – Mark 6:45-56
Maybe you’ve discovered too late that your courage outran your own strength. You ran too far out over the edge of the pier. You made a claim you could not keep. You bragged about something that proved not to be true.
It might be as simple as bragging on your alma mater’s football team, or as dire as outrunning your ability to survive a hurricane. The results can run from deadly to embarrassment. From “Oops!” to “Ugh.”
A sudden encounter with your own incompetence is bad enough. Add to that an appearance of an unexplainable nature, and what do you do then? The disciples were likely at the edge of their maritime capabilities. It’s somewhere between 3 and 6 AM. The going has been difficult and arduous. They’ve been fighting the wind and the waves for six hours. Mark tells us that they were making headway painfully.
Mark notes some things about Jesus that are worthy of our consideration. He reports that Jesus spends time in prayer. He sees that they were having difficulty. He also tells us that Jesus intended to pass them by (as he walked on the water).
This is an odd combination to me: Prayerful watching together with passing by. What am I to make of it? Even allowing that he intended this to be a revelation of his glory as he passed by them, why would he intend to do that and yet draw near to them when they cried out in fear?
Joni Eareckson once said, “The why of a searching heart is different from the why of a clenched fist.” It must be – all their foibles notwithstanding – that the disciples’ fear was a godly fear. It must have been mixed with love and trust.
In any case we do well to keep God in his proper place in our hearts. This we do as we fear, love, and trust in God above all things. That’s an odd combination these days, but it is so appropriate on the part of those to whom God has revealed himself in Jesus of Nazareth.