John J. Kilgallen | Oct 14 2008 - 9:08pm | 0 comments
The episode following the feeding of the 5000 through the instrumentality of the Twelve is the story of Jesus walking on the water. No doubt, one can study individual episodes to learn their meanings, but we do recognize that it is Mark, and his intentions, that linked certain stories with others; often this ’linking’ is due to nothing less than the fact that two events were linked by time and place. In regard to the present episode of the walking on the water, it makes best sense to see this event not simply as subsequent in time and place to the feeding of the 5000, but as theologically linked with the feeding story. It goes this way. First, the beginning words of the water story do not show a great editorial change; rather, the crowd of the earlier story are indicated again (Jesus dismisses them) and Jesus has his same Twelve now get into a boat to cross the waters. In some way this story concludes the Twelve’s feeding of thousands. Second, Jesus goes onto a mountain to pray. This is a unique description in Mark. It suggests a separation of Jesus from his disciples, even an ascension from them. In any event, those who were together to feed the 5000 now go separate ways. Third, the Twelve struggle against wind and waves; they were tossed about – apparently with little control over their journey. Fourth, Jesus is alone now, in another place. From here he can see their troubles. Fifth, Jesus walks on the waters, on what is a most dangerous enemy to human life. His intention was to pass by those in the boat. His presence should calm their fears in troubling waters. Sixth, what they saw of Jesus appeared to be a phantom or ghost, a way we know the disciples in Luke 24 described the risen Jesus. Seventh, Jesus pronounces a phrase which in Jewish ears strongly suggested Yahweh: it is I, or I AM. John’s Gospel is famous for its use of this divine name for Jesus. This seven points suggest this interpretation: those who were to feed the followers of Jesus ’from their 12 baskets’, when they are faced with persecutions, should know the risen Jesus and trust in him; they should take courage and not be afraid. The disciples, responsible for feeding the truth to others, failed to understand what Jesus was teaching them about trust in himself when they were ’alone’ and he had been raised from the dead. Mark means for his audience this lesson of food to be distributed when Jesus was gone and the courage to believe in the protection of the risen Jesus. Now Mark inserts not a memory of a single event, but a summary of many events. Emphasis here returns to the power of Jesus; even to touch a tassel of his cloak brought healing. The feeding of the 5000 and the assurance to the church of the love of the risen Jesus certainly mean to show the astounding powers of Jesus, but they have other meanings to emphasize than just divine power. But in the summary Mark means to focus our attention once again on the power of Jesus which will continue to provoke various answers to the question, "Who is this Jesus?" John Kilgallen, S.J.