I am seaside today, in John 6, at the end of a long, hard, amazing day, and full of questions more than answers. Do you ever have days like that? Days full of a roller-coaster ride of emotions and outcomes? Days that seem to pack a week of living into 24 hour period? Like an old wine skin about to burst, the hours wear on, and each drop threatens to burst its wearied sides.
This day began so awfully. A beloved disciple and leader for Christ was lost in a heart-wrenching and violent manner. Then, at the point of emotional exhaustion, there was a faith-building miracle that swept over thousands of souls.
Evening has finally come. The disciples crawl into a boat and start across the sea toward Capernaum. Jesus has bid them to go on without him, and finally dismissed the crowd on the hillside that lingered. He retreats to the mountain by Himself. After all the day’s activity, the crowd’s response to this miracle worker who claims to be God, is to take Him by force and make Him king. It isn’t His time, and it isn’t His Father’s plan, so He steps aside into the shadows to pray.
While I wait for Him to finish, I am wondering…
Does Jesus withdraw from the world, from us, from me when we try to make Him something He is not?
In what ways do I try to force Him into my own mold and try to capture Him into my life the way I see fit and when I think He’ll fit best?
My eyes shift out to sea and I am in the boat along with the disciples. It is dark. The water’s chop is becoming larger and the wind whips up against the boat, making it painfully difficult to make headway.
I have a boat. It’s not a fishing boat. It’s a modest 17-footer motor boat in which we play in the sun on a little lake tucked into western New Hampshire. I am not a fisherman, as comfortable on the sea and with its fickle temperament as I am on land. I am wary of the waves. When the clouds hang dark, the inviting blue of the water becomes a stern and unsympathetic grey. When the wind whips up, and slows the momentum of the boat’s progress, the shore seems farther and farther away. It is unsettling, especially as you watch a storm draw closer from over the hillside.
I would never be in a boat, in a windstorm, at night. You can’t see what’s out there. I admire the men and women who fish for a living, who live this daily and take it in stride. Such were some of the disciples. These men row with the wary respect due the sea that they know well, and with knowledge and experience to navigate the waves safely.
Climb in this boat with these fishermen turned fishers of men. Hang on to something because it’s not a smooth ride. What do you see? Not much. By a flicker of oil lamps, perhaps, you see the shadows of those that row, squinting in the wind, muscles straining against the opposing pull of the waves that rise against the keel. The spray from the waves stings your face as the waves beat against the boat. Up and down we rise as the sea roils black and contrary. It is somewhere between 3:00 AM and 6:00 AM. Dark. This trip is taking longer than it should. Where did these waves come from, and would they Please. Just. Stop.
“When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near to the boat. They were frightened (struck with fear, to be seized with alarm).” John 6:19
Matthew and Mark add another perspective. “They were terrified.”
Matthew and Mark use a word which means, among other things, “to cause one inner commotion, to take away one’s calmness of mind…render anxious or distressed”
Hmmm…Have you been there? In a storm? Without calmness of mind? Anxious…distressed…seized with alarm…?
Relationships are stormy. Parenting is stormy. Church fellowship is stormy. Illness is stormy. Work is stormy. Growing up is stormy.
I find it interesting, don’t you, that the disciples were not afraid of the wind here. It is not the same storm as when Jesus is asleep in the boat with them, and rises to calm it, and their fears.
So what were they afraid of?
It is dark or toward dawn—black at its worst, grey at its best. They are preoccupied by the struggle of moving forward, and dealing with the opposing forces of the wind and waves that are obstacles to them reaching their destination.
Suddenly, in a totally unexpected manner, Jesus strides along toward the boat. He’s walking, not struggling. He means to pass by them. Maybe there wasn’t room for Him in the boat. He was comfortable sloshing through those turbulent waves like they were nothing. (Mark 6:48, 49)
The disciples are struck with alarm and a feeling of anxiety and distress overwhelms them, so much so that they cry out in fear. Definitely gone is that calmness of mind and focus. They don’t even recognize Him for who He is at first.
“Take heart,” He says. “It is I. Have no fear.” Then they were glad to take Him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going. John 6:20, 21
(There is more that happens in this boat. Please pop over here another time: https://anearthenvessel.wordpress.com/2013/02/08/company-in-the-boat/ )
The wind ceases. They are where they need to be, with Whom they need to be.
Here are my other questions…
Do I, in my struggles, not recognize Jesus when He comes? Is it because He arrives in unexpected manners, totally out of the ordinary?
What can I do to recognize Him more?
I recognize people by spending time with them and paying attention to them when I am with them. Isn’t it the same with Jesus?
I should remember to expect the unexpected. Jesus doesn’t fit into my human mold. He shows up in events, in circumstances, through people, in ways I cannot imagine, that break all the rules. I need to get used to that.
And I need to get used to Jesus treating the waves like they are nothing. Because, to Him, they are.
Do you notice here that Jesus doesn’t offer a discourse on how to row better against the wind? He doesn’t offer solutions, as in actions to take. He offers only Himself. That is enough.
“It is I. Have no fear.”
It has been quite a boat ride. I have learned a lot on this part of the journey, but I am ready to have firm footing on land for a while.
I will be thinking about these lessons for a while.
Next up: a conversation about bread…
Blessings on you as you journey. Be on the lookout for the unexpected ways Jesus shows up!
All scripture quotess from: Revised Standard Version, Zondervan Bible Publishers, 1971