“Do not Worry, Do not be Afraid!”
By Rev. Canon David B. Tabo-oy
“Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish. 12When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” 13So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten”. John 6:11-13
v45Right away, Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and start back across to Bethsaida. But he stayed until he had sent the crowds away. v46Then he told them good-by and went up on the side of a mountain to pray.
v47Later that evening he was still there by himself, and the boat was somewhere in the middle of the lake. v48He could see that the disciples were struggling hard, because they were rowing against the wind. Not long before morning, Jesus came toward them. He was walking on the water and was about to pass the boat.
v49When the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water, they thought he was a ghost, and they started screaming. v50All of them saw him and were terrified. But at that same time he said, “Don’t worry! I am Jesus. Don’t be afraid.” v51He then got into the boat with them, and the wind died down. The disciples were completely confused. v52Their minds were closed, and they could not understand the true meaning of the loaves of bread. – Mark 6:45-52 (CEV)
This 7th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 12) there are two text options for the Lectionary Gospel reading of the Protestant churches, the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches – yet they are connected: Jesus miraculous feeding of the multitude and his walking on water which caused his disciples to be afraid. I am citing both texts herein for our cross reference and reminder. Most part of this article was published in this column fifteen years ago (July 25, 2006) but still very relevant today and even the years to come in our lives as believers even otherwise.
Jesus and his disciples just finished another leg of their work in the northern part of Galilee. They just ministered with the needs of the people who came seeking for them. Jesus ministered to them both on their spiritual and physical needs. In fact, he just finished miraculously fed a throng of 5,000 people out of a meager supply of 2 fish and 5 loaves. But every laborer is entitled for a break. After sending his disciples ahead to the other side of the lake in the town of Bethsaida, he went to a deserted place and prayed.
There are two things that we observed on these verses. First, Jesus sent his disciples away ahead of him. In the parallel gospel of John, the writer indicates that the crowd would like to make Jesus king by force. So he sent them away as a diversionary move. Secondly, he went alone to pray.
Yes, Jesus even in his most hectic activity did not forget to include prayer in his schedule. It reminds us that prayer is the most powerful source of power to enable us to do even the most difficult task set before us. Jesus needs to recharge after a backbreaking and spirit weakening labor. After his prayers, Jesus looks down and saw his disciples straining in their oars because they are against the wind. At about four in the morning, Jesus walks on water and planned to overtake them. But the disciples saw him and thought he was a ghost – that according to their cultural belief, it was a water spirit. Seeing a ghost or a spirit at night according to the Jewish superstition will bring sure disaster. And with this apparition and superstition, they cried out of intense fear and horror.
At this point Jesus uttered the most assuring – even magical words: “Courage! It is I, do not be afraid.” (Mark 6:50 TEV)
We are sailing in life’s rough waters – most often than not, the sailing is rough because of our own doing and foolishness. We create the waves that make our sailing rough just like the disciples who rowed against the wind instead of riding the wind, as expert sailors should do. They must have been confused and disoriented because of their fatigue. Their focus was off.
For more than a year we are like the disciples troubled by this life ocean’s rampaging waves due to the deathly COVID 19 pandemic. We are unfamiliar with the virus that we do not have a ready antidote. While there are now several vaccines on trial use the infection goes unabated and new mutations more deadly are being detected. Making the matter worse our elected leaders are more focused on politics rather than on a united front to combat the disease.
Amidst our life troubles, our Lord does not abandon us; instead, he is always there for us. But then because of our own doing, we are disoriented and our focus is off. Thus, we fail to recognize our Lord – we even accuse him of not there when we needed him most – just like the person in the “footprints in the sand” story. Why the off focus, disorientation and non-recognition?
“51Then he climbed into the boat with them and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, 52for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.” Mark 6:51
“They had not understood about the loaves”. Had they understood the feeding of the 5,000, they would not have been amazed at Jesus’ walking on the water or his calming the waves. Their hearts were hardened. They were showing themselves to be similar to Jesus’ opponents, who also exhibited hardness of heart. Hardness of heart. Unbelief. The same attitude plagues us in our faith journey today. It is ironic that after all what we have known, read and heard about Jesus as the Lord and Messiah [there are voluminous books written about Jesus as Lord, notwithstanding numerous versions and translations of the Holy Bible], we still do not recognize Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior – Jesus is still a stranger to most of us. It is so easy to shout “Jesus is Lord!” but the direction and conduct of our lives say otherwise. What must be done?
Hardness of heart needs change of heart (metanoia-repentance; kenosis – or self-emptying); unbelief to belief and faith. Let us listen to what the church fathers say about belief and faith: “Understanding is the reward of faith. Therefore, seek not to understand that thou mayest believe, but believe that thou mayest understand.” (St Augustine) “Live in faith and hope, though it be in darkness, for in this darkness God protects the soul. Cast your care upon God for you are His and He will not forget you. Do not think that He is leaving you alone, for that would be to wrong Him.” (St John of the Cross)
The disciples were afraid because they did not fully understand the miraculous feeding of the multitude out from a meager supply of two fishes and five loaves. The same reality is with us today. God provides! We all proclaim yet in the situation of need and critical predicament we forget, dismay, and even question if God is real, and evilly remedy for ourselves (steal, cheat, etc.) to come out of the situation.
The disciples were afraid because they did not understand the multiplication of the loaves and fishes.
To understand about the loaves is to realize that whatever fears we may have can be met by the love we are given from our Lord; it is to realize that whatever powers are grinding us to a halt can and will be met by an ever greater power, and that whatever journey we are on will be ended safely.
To understand about the loaves is to know that whatever situation, dilemma, problem or storm we face, wherever we may be, Jesus is within easy walking distance, and he will make the trip-and we are not alone.
The disciples saw that Jesus was with them — and they were very surprised, and they were frightened. We are called to expect the Lord to be with us, no matter what, and to take heart — because we can understand about the loaves.
Let us pray.
O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Proper 12 Collect)**