If you think that feeding 5000+ people at the same time with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish to work with is crazy and hard to fathom then i have bad news for you. The crazy hard to fathom continues into the next section of John’s gospel because this is the part when Jesus walks on water.
John tells us that after the big picnic on the mountainside, evening came and the disciples made their way back from the mountain to the lake where they got into their boat and began to make their way back across the lake to Capernaum. The distance that they would have had to row was around 7/8 miles. John is specific about telling his readers that Jesus had not yet joined the disciples. This particular event was also recorded by Matthew and Mark, both of whom recorded it at the same point in time – right after the feeding of the 5000.
Let me draw your attention back to the distance that these guys had to row that night. A distance of 7-8 miles is no short distance to have to row. It was also night time so these guys were rowing in complete darkness, and there was a storm blowing. Even before any weirdness sets in to this story, it is already a grim situation by most people’s standards. At around the half way point of their journey they see Jesus approaching them, walking on the water. I had never it of this until today, but for Jesus to be within view of the boat means that he is also half way across the lake. This means that not only is Jesus walking on the water in the present moment of this story, but he presumably has been walking on the water for three or four miles by the time he has come into view. Either that is the case or Jesus has somehow teleported from the edge of the lake to the middle of the lake. However it went down that night the reported facts of the event i.e., that Jesus was walking towards the boat on the top of the water, are certainly enough to freak out even those who knew Jesus best. Even though some commentators have attempted to explain this event within the realms of human possibility (e.g. William Barclay), there is just no way to make sense of it in any kind of rational way. The disciples are justifiably afraid – there is a man walking on the top of the water – and Jesus said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid. Then the disciples were willing to allow him into the boat and immediately they were on the edge of the lake at the point to which they were headed.
N.T. Wright believes that John has placed this story here to continue revealing Jesus as the Chosen one of God, who has come to be the fulfillment of the law and the very completion of the story of God’s relationship with Israel. It is Wright’s understanding that this is what John 6 is all about. At the beginning of John 6 the loaves and fish used to feed the hungry crowd in a miraculous way harkens back to the story of the Exodus and God’s provision of manna from heaven for the hungry, journeying people. Ans then this passage, where Jesus walks on water and rescues his disciples from their predicament, harkens back to another very defining moment in the Exodus story – the parting of the Red Sea. In a sense, John is connecting the dots of the big picture of God’s salvation for humanity. He is connecting the old, dominant narrative, passed down through the generations, to the narrative of the new work of God which is now taking place in Christ. John is saying again that this man Jesus is the very Word of God, the Chosen One, the Messiah for which these people have been waiting – and he (Jesus) is intimately connected to the Exodus/Passover narrative which has bound these people together across the generations.
In this passage John is continuing to reveal who Jesus is, and he is setting it all in the context of the old story so that the people he is writing for will have a clear understanding that jesus is the one they have been waiting for. But also in this passage is the very simple, but very profound truth that when the wind howls, when the waves roll, and the friends of Jesus literally feel ‘all at sea,’ Jesus joins his friends and simply says: Do not be afraid!
Are there storms raging in your life right now? I assume so – there are storms raging in my life too. With that being the case, perhaps you will permit me to remind you that in these times; in these storms, our friend Jesus is right here with us and is still saying to all his friends (you and me): Do not be afraid.
Perhaps it is time to welcome Jesus into the boat, huh?