The story of Jesus walking on the sea and calming the waves in order to comfort his disciples is disturbing for many readers, especially those troubled by miracles. Some have wondered about the salinity of this body of water, or its depth, hoping to explain the improbable event. But often a story may be profoundly true without being factual. Since the other three gospels offer variations on this mysterious account found in Mark, clearly we’re not to dismiss it!
The scene is very early morning, and the disciples are bobbing in a small boat on choppy waters, an unsettling if not terrifying situation. Into this metaphor of the human condition Jesus appears, initially unknown and frightening, but gradually recognized as he conveys deep calm and peace. This is not the public Jesus, the one who in late afternoon fed 5,000 people. The man who appears on the turbulent sea is their close friend and teacher, and the fantastic story may be meant to reveal how they came to perceive him privately, how his physical presence puzzled and astounded them, how he demonstrated for them a new way of being.
Mark makes no secret of Jesus’ ritual for restoring inner strength and peace: repeatedly the writer tells us that Jesus withdrew to pray. Significantly, Jesus was praying alone on a mountain above the sea when the disciples began their voyage. I believe we’re meant to connect these periods of solitude and prayer with the powerful truth of Jesus’ teachings, as well as the reassurance of his physical presence. “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
In this Lenten period let us too be willing to withdraw alone to pray. Perhaps we may find a sense of inner peace and stillness bringing calm not only to our own hearts and minds, but to those souls all around us.