Mark 6:45-52: All We Can Be Is Vulnerable and Not Afraid
45 Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. 47 And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. 48 And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, 49 but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, 50 for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” 51 And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, 52 for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.
I wonder on the importance of boats in the gospels, boats that aren’t catching fish, boats that are sinking, boats that cannot move forward because of wind and rain.
There is something about boats that speaks to the precarious situation of just being human. Of risk, turbulence.
And there is, also, Christ’s insistence on being in boats. Falling asleep on boats, pointing to where boats should put their nets. Or, in this case, walking on water and getting inside them.
Presumably, he saw the disciples from the mountain he prayed on. He could have calmed the storm from there, spoken a word over the peril he saw from afar. He could have spoken over the human situation. He did not. He did not help the disciples that way.
What can you be during a storm? You cannot really be a sailor. You cannot really be a fisherman. You cannot really be a professional.
You certainly cannot be in control.
People who have survived natural disasters can probably attest to it. All you can be in a storm is vulnerable.
And Christ, who could have solved their vulnerability from the mountain, who could have spoken over the situation, decides to embed himself within it.
He moves toward the boat and sees them struggling, and wants, it says, “To pass them by.” Scholars tell us that when it says, “He meant to pass them by,” that Christ was trying to reveal himself to them. To reveal himself while they are struggling. To reveal himself within that kind of unbearable tension. The crucifying vulnerability of just being human.
Jesus does not first solve the problem and then reveal himself. He reveals himself within that kind of profound vulnerability. Within that tension.
He walks on water. He speaks to them. He gets in the boat. And then, the waters cease.
And Christ has made feel their profound vulnerability. And asked them to not be afraid.
We are, of course, told to not be afraid because that is what we are. We are afraid because we are vulnerable. We are vulnerable because we are human.
Christ is not, of course, saying they are not vulnerable. They are.
Perhaps he is telling them how to relate to their vulnerability.
Perhaps he is pointing to what they can be when they are vulnerable. All they can ben when they are vulnerable is someone who depends on Christ.
“It is I. Do not be afraid.”
"It is I. Do not be afraid."
"It is I. Do not be afraid."
When I work with people for whom day to day life is constant peril. Or that feels like constant peril. I can feel their vulnerability, and mine. I have been revealed as vulnerable. This life has revealed them as vulnerable.
And sometimes, with that helplessness, there is a kind of immaculate dread. And sometimes, with that helplessness, there is a kind of crucifying sweetness. A kind of perfect helplessness. That makes it clear we only live by Mercy.