He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn 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 were terrified.
Immediately he spoke to them and said, “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. (Mark 6: 48-52)
This week, all of us hanging around in Eastern Ontario, experienced the convergence of climate change and Covid in a single week. We had the epic blizzard on Monday night and Tuesday, and just as we were plowing and shoveling our way out, we had a massive thaw complete with freezing rain. Then last night the temperature dropped 20 degrees overnight and all our snowbanks have hardened into concrete and any uncleared walkway is completely impassable. At the same time, children were scheduled to return to school; had two snow days to contend with, one day of freezing rain, and now are back with their fingers crossed, a few RAT in their backpacks and a couple of N95 masks.
Our world feels very insecure. Public Health orders seem to change by the hour. The weather seems to change by the hour. And all of us are trying to navigate these windy waters, straining with the tiny oars of resilience against all that is being thrown at us. My own instinct is to run and yell at the wind. I get hostile and directive when I’m scared or overwhelmed. But, to keep the metaphor going – yelling into the wind gets you nowhere. Your voice is blown away and no one can hear you. Others of you have spoken about the feeling of wanting to hibernate like a bunch of bears, under your warm blankies, by the fireplace, with a bowl of chips to keep you company. Either way of coping, or any way of coping seems to be completely ‘legit’ in the face of the anxiety of this time.
The Mark passage that I’ve quoted above isn’t from this week’s Lectionary readings. It just happens to be one that came up for me this morning as I was getting ready for my day. It’s a pretty familiar reading, to me, anyway – but I noticed a couple of new things today.
Firstly – the story says that Jesus ‘went out to them’, but then was ‘about to pass by them’. Kinda weird, eh! Why would Jesus go to the disciples but then ‘pass’ by them? Did he change his mind? So, I dove into the commentary I had at hand, and it turns out that the ‘pass by them’ phrase has kind of shifted its meaning over time. You see, there’s this Old Testament understanding that God ‘passes by’ when God is revealing God’s self fully to the people. So, in this Mark story, Jesus isn’t casually walking away from the disciples, he was getting ready to reveal himself fully to them as God. And it was the disciples that couldn’t ‘see’ Jesus as God, and instead mistook him for a ghost; which just made the whole scenario even more chaotic.
Then – just because the obtuseness of the disciples never seems to end, Jesus amazes them by calming the wind and climbing into their boat with them. The story says that this ‘amazed’ the disciples; but that they still couldn’t see the miracle for what it was and they ‘hardened their hearts’. Amazement at the miracle, but it didn’t open them up to who Jesus is.
I love reading about the disciples. I love it because these are ‘real’ people. They’re people I can relate to. They’re people who can’t ‘see the forest for the trees’ and even though Jesus is standing right in front of them saying “Look, I’m God, I’ve got this. You don’t need to be afraid”, they still will write something off as a coincidence or a trick. Even though they’re right there when Jesus multiplies the loaves and the fishes and makes sure everyone is fed and cared for, the disciples can’t connect the dots between that miracle, and that Jesus has just managed to calm the wind so they could row their boat. And the result? “Their hearts were hardened”.
So, I’m wondering, my dear Bethel peeps, if that the ‘toughness’ of this week really isn’t all that bad. I think all of us can say in truth that we’ve experienced tougher weeks than this one. Now, I don’t want to minimize what we’ve had thrown at us this week. The weather has been wild and Covid continues. Those are facts. But I wonder too, if we haven’t been able to see that God is still here with us and revealing God’s self to us. I wonder if, like the disciples, when we see God passing us that we’ve mistaken God for a ghost – or at least for something that doesn’t seem fully real and definitely not reassuring. I wonder too, if when God’s climbed into our little boat to hang out with us – or maybe has snuggled with us under our blankie with a bowl of chips, that we haven’t connected the miracle of feeling calm and secure with God’s other miracles in our life and instead just chalked things up to our ‘good coping skills’ or ‘comfort food as necessary’.
So, if we’re going to learn anything from the disciples, its that we need to recognize Jesus when Jesus actually is there with us. There with us, comforting us, giving us safety and security, and reminding us that our lives are made up of miracle upon miracle even in the midst of climate change and Covid. I hope you’ll join me in ‘seeing’ God when God ‘passes us by’. I hope you’ll join me in connecting the miracles of today with the miracles yesterday so that all of them add of to hope. And I hope you’ll join me in letting your hearts be softened instead of hardened.
Blessing today and remember you are Loved. ~ Rev. Lynne
(PS Our pic today is the entrance to the church with the concrete snow blocking my way into the building. But the miracle in that is that by the end of ‘Prayer and Share’ we had 8 solutions to this snow problem and we had people stepping up to support that community in ways that are extraordinary!)