My small group has been challenging me in my reading of scripture to pay more attention to the details when I read – to look deeper into what the text is saying through the little things. As I’ve answered that challenge, I’ve spent more time scouring the commentary in my study Bible, and the extra attention to detail has really livened up my Bible reading. God has drawn my eyes to fresh insights.
One night I was trying to decide what to read since I had just finished the book I had been studying in for a while, so I flipped to one of my bookmarks and just decided to read that page. I opened to the passage in Mark where Jesus walks on water and calms the wind. It’s a familiar passage, and I must admit that I often skim something I’ve read hundreds of times. But this time was different.
The story is in Mark 6:45-53. The short version is that after Jesus had fed the crowd of people with five loaves of bread and two fishes (and had enough left over for each of the twelve disciples to have a doggy basket), Jesus sent his disciples by boat across the Sea of Galilee to Bethsaida. Once the disciples were in the boat, he sent the crowds home, and he went up on the mountain to pray. In the middle of the night, he could see that the disciples were straining against the wind. He walked out on the water and got into the boat, and the wind immediately calmed. When they crossed over the sea, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there.
The study Bible commentary points out that there are no less than three miracles in this short passage. First, Jesus sees the disciples in the middle of the sea from a long distance away while he’s on the mountain praying. Then he walks on the water, and then he controls the weather. As many times as I’ve read this story, it never occurred to me that being able to see miles away was a miracle; I’ve always focused on the walking on water and the calming of the sea.
The disciples thought Jesus was a ghost when they saw him, which, added to fear and stress of straining against the wind, terrified the disciples. Seeing ghosts was considered a bad omen (when is it ever a good omen??), so they began to think the worst. Can you hear Thomas? “I knew this was a bad idea. Now look, we’re seeing the ghost of Jesus, so he must be dead, and now we’re all going to die in this boat.” Maybe James and John, the experienced fishermen, were arguing about how to handle the boat in such bad conditions. You know at least one of the disciples had assumed a crash position, and Peter was probably yelling at the wind to knock it off.
Jesus got in the boat, and the wind stopped.
Can you see the scene on the boat? They have experienced complete pandemonium fighting against the wind and probably each other, they get scared out of their minds when they see a ghost, and then suddenly it just stops. Everything goes quiet. How long do you think it was silent on the boat while they all processed what they’d just witnessed? Who would believe them? Of course they’d seen Jesus heal people, and they’d just participated in feeding over 5,000 people with one person’s lunch, but controlling the weather was a new kind of power for them to see from Jesus. How many of his teachings were they reconsidering in light of this new development? How were they still failing to see exactly who Jesus was and why he had come?
But then again, how many times do we see God work in our own lives and then still question who he is when we’re in the midst of a storm in our own lives?
How often do we just assume the crash position or curse the wind or try to manage something far beyond our control? If we let Jesus into our boat – into whatever storm we are fighting – he will come aboard and silence the wind and the waves. We can come to him and calm our hearts in his perfect peace, even if the storm continues or blows us off course. In his presence there is perfect quiet. There is space and time to focus. We can trust him to guide us safely back to shore and to be the voice of calm and reason that shows us what to do next once we anchor in him.
Here’s the biggest thing I’ve never noticed about this story: they landed off course. They set out for Bethsaida, but they ended up anchored in Gennesaret, which is several cities to the west of their intended destination.
Jesus let them be blown off course. He was with them in the boat, and he could have easily put them back on course when he calmed the wind. But he didn’t. Even though he was the one who told them to get in in the boat and go to Bethsaida. He gave them a specific destination, they encountered an obstacle that Jesus overcame, their course was changed by the obstacle, and even though Jesus was physically with them they still ended up in a different place than what they planned on.
And Jesus was obviously just fine with that because he continued to heal people in Gennesaret; his ministry was unchanged in spite of the change in destination.
To be honest, this is both freeing and frustrating. I have been blown off course in my life by so many obstacles I’ve lost count. It’s hard to accept that a good and worthy goal, perhaps even a God-given goal, could change completely. If Jesus is in my boat, calming the storm, why is he letting anything get in the way? Why isn’t he just making it happen instead of letting us get blown off course?
I forget that the objective of any obstacle is to draw my attention back to Jesus, to make me cry out to him for salvation and direction. The storm was just another way Jesus could reveal himself to his disciples, and maybe that was the point of sending them out to cross the sea. From the verses that follow their landfall, it’s obvious that getting to Bethsaida wasn’t an immediate priority. That’s the frustrating part.
The freeing part is that the destination change didn’t alter the work of Jesus one bit. They just kept right on teaching and healing folks.
Maybe that was also the point – to show the disciples that the destination had no bearing on the good news they were spreading. It was for everyone, everywhere, so it’s impossible to ever really be off course unless you quit relying on Jesus.
I can’t tell you how many times my course has changed – the target has moved – but I’ve found myself exactly where I need to be to serve God. That’s freedom that only faith can provide. I can let go (Jesus take the wheel!) of even the worthiest of goals and chase a new one as long as I’m following Jesus.