I was struck by the words "He intended to pass them by" (Mark 6:48). Obviously this did not mean that Jesus had no intention of helping his disciples. In fact "He got into the boat with them and the wind ceased" (Mark 6:51). But it is clear that what he would do to help depended on their response. He had no intention of forcing himself upon them. If they had not wanted him, he would have passed by.
This reminded me of what happened on the first Easter morning. Two of Jesus disciples were walking on the road to Emmaus, which was about 7 miles from Jerusalem. As they were discussing what had happened when Jesus was crucified, and the report that his tomb was found empty, Jesus himself came and walked along with them. They did not recognize him, and they imagined he was a passing stranger. He even explained to them from the Old Testament how the crucifixion and resurrection were foreseen by the prophets (Luke 24:13-27). Then as they came near the village of Emmaus "He walked ahead as if he were going on." If they had not urged him to come and stay with them, he would have passed them by. It was their invitation and enthusiasm to welcome him to eat with them that resulted in him revealing himself as "he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them" (Luke 24:28-30). I wonder how often Jesus has come by in each of our lives, and we have missed the opportunity to invite him into our situation?
Now let's see in our Gospel story how he could have passed by the apostles on that occasion. It was a dangerous situation being tossed around by huge waves in the middle of the night in a small boat on the sea of Galilee. They were "straining at the oars against an adverse wind" (Mark 6:48), and making no progress toward the land.
Having come as a visiting preacher from Canada, I don't know your personal situations. But I am sure that some of you are straining at the oars and the wind seems dead set against you. Last week I noticed that on Princess Street in Kingston two or three small businesses had folded. The wind against them was due to the huge new stores like Walmart where people could drive out and buy items at half the price. In each case you can imagine the store keepers rowing like mad, working long hours doing their best to hold off the bank calling their loan and closing them down. I wonder if any of them had Jesus passing by, wanting to help, but they did not recognize him?
Some of you are rowing like mad trying to pay off debts and mounting credit card bills. Others are struggling to hold their marriage and their family together but making no progress against the storm. Mothers with little children are feeling exhausted as they feel the work and the mess will never end. Others are trying to keep loving teenagers who seem intent on a totally different agenda. Many strain at the oars as they battle alcohol addiction, or drugs, weight and other health problems.
As the disciples were rowing that night Jesus was up on the mountain above the place where he had fed the five thousand. But why had he sent them off across the lake into this hopeless situation? (Mark 6:45). Actually he was praying, not only for the work of his Kingdom, but for them. And he had seen them through the darkness "straining at the oars" and making no progress against that merciless wind (Mark 6:47-48).
Finally "he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the sea." And "he intended to pass them by" (Mark 6:48). That meant that he came right by them, and he would have gone on leaving them to row alone, unless they specifically invited him on board. In the first light of dawn they saw a shape, thought it was a ghost, and cried out in terror. I can imagine Peter saying "Don't be silly, there are no such things as ghosts. Get back to rowing or we will go side to the wind and capsize." But Jesus recognized their cry as a prayer for help, and he said "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid" (Mark 6:49-50).
In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus had said to Peter "Watch and Pray" (Matthew 26:41). Perhaps we should turn that around and say "Pray and watch for Jesus coming by." When Jesus comes to us it could be in one of many forms. On the first resurrection morning Mary Magdalene thought Jesus was the gardener. For those disciples on the road to Emmaus he came in the form of a stranger walking on the road with them (Luke 24:15), but they did not recognize him. He can also comes to us in a vision of the night. Many have seen the Lord standing right by their bedside. But he could also come as a bright light on the road (Acts 9:3) or in the form of one of his servants, like Ananias of Damascus (Acts 9:10-18).
Our New Testament reading was about you and me as members of the body of which the Messiah is the head (Ephesians 4:1-4, 15-16). Since he is in touch with every part of his body, Jesus can come to us in any situation in the form of any member. We might not recognize him. Referring to our own human bodies, Paul said "the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body which we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor" (1 Corinthians 12:22-23). That suggests that we should not be surprised if the Messiah chooses to come alongside us in the form of the most insignificant member of our church.
The art is to pray when we feel we are straining at the oars and making no progress against the tough wind of our life. But then we should be on the look out for the first sign of his coming by. And when Jesus came aboard their boat the disciples felt the wind drop. There were still the big waves, and they had to row to the nearest land on the beach by the village of Gennesaret (Mark 6:53). That was about eight miles west of Bethsaida where Jesus had originally told them to go (Mark 6:45). When Jesus comes on board there can often be a change of plans, but the important thing is that we invite him on board. And if the disciples hadn't cried out for him to help, I suppose "he intended to pass them by" (Mark 6:48).
Prayer - I am going to give you a couple of minutes of silence
before we go on with our service. If you are straining at the oars and
making no progress against the wind, ask Jesus to come on board. And then
look carefully to see what he begins to do in your life.