The title of this reflection is “The God Who Passes Us By.” This is the kind of title which may cause a few readers to move quickly on to the next chapter. However, this particular passage falls into a category of miracles in the New Testament of which there are very few examples. Indeed, this is outside of everything we normally think of when we think about the function of miracles in the New Testament.
This is the account of Jesus walking on the water. The question which I want to pose is this: Why did Jesus walk on the water? The disciples are out on the Sea of Galilee struggling and rowing against the wind. Did He walk across the sea because He saw the disciples were in need and He was coming to help them? If so, this miracle may be just another example of Jesus exercising His divine authority over creation on behalf of His children. But is that why Jesus went out onto the water? Why did Jesus go out to them on this particular occasion? What was Jesus seeking to demonstrate by walking on the water? If you carefully read this passage there is a little phrase in Mark’s account which might be easy to miss, but is extremely important. Mark records the phrase, “He was about to pass by them… when the disciples saw him walking on the water…” It is this phrase, “He was about to pass by them” which I want us to reflect on more deeply. Peter, who was an eye-witness of this miracle, remembered that Jesus did not walk out on the water directly to them. Rather, Jesus was actually walking past them when they spotted Him. If Jesus was about to pass by them, then his primary purpose was not coming directly out to help the disciples in the midst of their crisis.
This, I think, is why this is a difficult miracle for modern readers to understand and appreciate. We cannot imagine a miracle which is not in some way “for us.” When Jesus touches lepers, restores sight to the blind, or heals the lame, we all understand that these are examples of divine miracles on our behalf. All of these miracles are about God in Jesus Christ coming directly to us and ministering to us in our needs. Certainly we have seen over and over again in these reflections on Mark’s gospel how God in Jesus Christ has taken the initiative to come out to us. After all, isn’t that what lies at the heart of the incarnation? The incarnation is about God coming into our midst to live on our terms. God in Jesus Christ becomes the greatest missionary of all time, bridging the great barrier between divinity and humanity to rescue us and save us and redeem us.
However, this passage brings out another point which we need to hear. On either side of this passage Jesus is found feeding the 5,000 (6:30-42) and healing the sick at Gennesaret (6:53-56). Yet, in the midst of these passages where God in Jesus Christ is healing us and meeting our needs, we catch a glimpse of the inner life of Jesus Christ apart from us. We catch a glimpse into the mystery of God apart from us. In the study of theology, this is known as the aseity of God. It refers to God as He is in Himself, independent from us. It was Job who declared, “He treads on the waves of the sea.” Job, as much as any writer in the Old Testament, understood through his own trials and sufferings that God is unfolding purposes much bigger than us, and far grander than the limits of our imaginations.
The Jewish people identified the sea with the primordial chaos out of which the world was brought into order by the creative act of God. The sea is a symbol of chaos. This whole miracle is surrounded by the chaos of the Fall. Before and after this passage we find people who are sick, ill and oppressed by demons. Mark does not shy away from giving us a full glimpse into the horrible plight of the human race. But Jesus is not consumed by these tragedies or by the enormity of the Fall. He was about to pass by them because this miracle was not about them. It was much grander than that. Jesus was asserting His very reason for coming to earth at all. He was asserting His divine prerogative over the weight of human sin, the Fall, and the chaos of our existence. To walk on the water or, to use the words of Job, to “tread on the waves of the sea” is to demonstrate Jesus’ authority over the entire chaos of human existence.
Sometimes things happen in our lives which we do not understand. Our prayers seem to go unanswered. God does things which don’t seem to make sense. Sometimes when we expect him to come directly to us, we find that He is treading on something else which we don’t understand. Sometimes God appears to be passing by us. However, in those times, we should remember that God is unfolding a plan which is greater than anything we can imagine. In the end, Jesus did come to his disciples. He did calm their fears. He did speak his word to them. However, the real lesson which Mark conveys to us is that God is much bigger than the disciples’ fears. He is unfolding a plan much bigger than anything we can imagine. So, learn to wait upon the Lord. Be patient. Know that God is unfolding His plan in His own time, and in His own way. We can trust that when the canvas is fully pulled back and we see the full workings of God in our lives and in the world, we will see that even when God seemed to be absent, or silent, He was working powerfully on our behalf.