When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and panicked. Immediately he spoke to them saying, "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid." Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened. When they crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there. As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus. They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went--into villages, towns or countryside--they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed.
You'll know this story. We hear it often, about Jesus coming across the lake on the water to the disciples who were rowing their boat in a big storm. Well, what do you think was happening? I'll admit it; I'm not sure. I just wonder. Were the disciples thinking their Rabbi had some kind of secret magic? It's possible, but Mark never tells his stories of Jesus as if he wanted us to know that Jesus was a magician. We never hear anything about Jesus' x-ray or telescopic vision. There's nothing like that here. He tells us that this group of Galilean fishermen, senior students in Jesus' school, were confused about their Rabbi. This is one story of what He did and said which had them scratching their heads in wonder.
They knew about their Rabbi's family. They knew He had taken over teaching from John the Baptist, proclaiming God's Kingdom. They knew He cared for them and for the people who came to Him. That was also shown to them this time when He changed His mind and came to their aid. It was strange and mysterious when He commanded the wind and waves. With Jesus on board they were safe.
Jesus had sent His disciples away in the boat while He dismissed the crowd. That must have been a big task, then Jesus closed up His teaching shop for the day and went up into the hills to pray. Did Mark ask Jesus about this later, after His resurrection, or was he in the crowd or on the boat to see it happen? (If not he would have checked with those who had been there). On the boat the disciples could have looked back and seen Jesus as a speck, as the boat sailed into the middle of the lake. There He was dismissing the crowds; there He goes up that path into the hills. That's how Mark tells it. Jesus was up in the hills, looking over the lake, praying and watching His disciples from a distance. They were battling the weather. A storm had set in so they got out the oars and rowed. The wind was howling a gale against them.
But wait a minute! It says there was a big storm. How did Jesus see them? Could Mark be saying that Jesus had seen them in such situations before and knew how difficult it was to row into the wind and against the tide? Was there a bright moon? In a storm? Could a moon's light give you that kind of long-distance vision in a storm? These questions come to mind about Jesus up the hills. Then it says "about the fourth watch …". It is as if Mark switches from telling us how Jesus saw the boat from far away, to how those on the boat were responding to the storm. Or, at least, how those who were awake at the fourth watch greeted Jesus. So were some asleep? In a storm? What about all hands on deck?
These are some of the things I just don't get. But Jesus came to them on the water. That's what it says and it also says He fully intended to keep going. What does that mean? I suppose it means that He was planning on meeting them at their destination but Mark says that when Jesus saw their terror He changed His mind and got into the boat. His friends needed Him, so He changed His mind.
How can we ever know how He did whatever He did on this occasion? If it were near to where I live, we'd suspect Jesus went wind-surfing, or had a board hidden among the Moonah trees in the sand dunes, taking it with him to the beach after His prayers. We don't know how He did it. If it was some kind of wind-surfing we'll never know, and the Bible doesn't tell us whether His disciples knew about wind-surfing anyway!
Maybe the disciples had been so busy rowing against the tide that they didn't realise they were in the shallows, closer to land than they had thought. We'll have questions and thoughts like these but as we attend to what Mark tells us we learn that one thing was clear. The disciples simply did not understand about the loaves.
So what didn't they understand about the loaves? How were the loaves related to their panic at seeing Jesus come across the Lake? We can't explain it and have no way of working out how this strange and miraculous event occurred. Jesus had been back on land but later, that same night, He boarded the boat out there in the middle during their trip across. Mark says that they didn't believe, that they didn't understand about the loaves. The Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world was there FOR THEM but until they understood this they wouldn't even know what to say or what to ask. The loaves had been eaten hours ago and Jesus was sitting there, dripping wet but they still didn't believe.
In the final few verses (53-56) we hear how the people of Gennesaret greeted the boat. The disciples were scratching their heads, but the little boat carrying them and their Rabbi had arrived. And that was when Jesus changed tack. He would no longer teach only on boat trips from the boat. He moved to other districts and continued His teaching, nursing and medical work, travelling by road.