Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 124. A Ghost?
Mk 6:48-50 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 were terrified.
When you have lived on this planet for any reasonable number of years, you begin to get an idea of how things work. Gravity means things fall downwards towards the ground. Solid things like bricks and stone mean they are ‘solid’ and hard and impenetrable. Water is movable and not structural and is not any use for walking on. With these things in mind, it is a fairly reasonable response of the disciples to attribute a figure walking on the middle of the lake to be a ghost.
All right, you have to be someone who believes in ghosts to start with but when you are confronted with something impossible, you may be excused for jumping to weird and wonderful conclusions. And such conclusions are scary. I mean, why is this figure out here? Is it coming for us? What does it want with us? What is it going to do with us? I think, in modern terms, if you’d just parachuted out of a plane at ten thousand feet and at about five thousand feet someone appeared to wander up casually and start talking to you as you continued to fall. But at least you would able to see them clearly. For the disciples it wasn’t clear.
The fourth watch was between 3 and6amso it is possible it is just starting to get light but still quite dark. Jesus has seen the disciples struggling on the lake and, we are told quite specifically, walked out to them. When he gets near them, he’s travelling faster than them and so makes like he’s about to walk past them. It’s a funny picture really. If it was a modern cartoon film he’s just amble by while they are struggling with their oars and calmly wave and say, “Hi guys,” as if it were perfectly ordinary and he was on his way somewhere. It’s almost as if he wants them to invite him in or call out to him for help.
Isn’t that what is happening when so often we get into difficulties in life and Jesus doesn’t seem to be there. He’s actually waiting for us to invite him into the situation or cry out to him for help. The fact that he is walking on water quite naturally should just reiterate the fact that he is the Son of God and he can handle every aspect of every situation, so if we are struggling, isn’t the wise thing to invite him to come and help us through our struggles. This, as we said before, is a stage-set situation arranged by Jesus to teach these disciples something. And us?