In the first five and a half chapters of the Gospel of Mark, we see a Jesus who is constantly on the move. He is traveling from town to town near the Sea of Galilee teaching, healing, performing exorcisms, attracting followers, and recruiting and training disciples. And it’s not just constant movement, it’s urgent movement from Jesus and those around him. From Mark 1:1 to Mark 6:45 the word “immediately” (WEB) is used 21 times! (Anyone else hearing the Hamilton soundtrack in their head? “Non-stop!”) It’s no wonder Jesus sneaks off by himself occasionally (Mark 1:35) or keeps a boat handy so as not to be crushed by the crowds on shore (Mark 3:9; 4:1).
After the miraculous feeding of the five thousand, Jesus “immediately” sends his disciples across the sea in a boat so that they can get some rest while he personally dismisses the crowd of followers then heads up a nearby mountain alone to pray (Mark 6:45). The account continues:
When evening had come, the boat was in the middle of the sea, and he was alone on the land. Seeing them distressed in rowing, for the wind was contrary to them, about the forth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea, and he would have passed by them, but they, when they saw him walking on the sea, supposed it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw him, and were troubled. But he immediately spoke with them, and said to them, “Cheer up! It is I! Don’t be afraid.’ He got into the boat with them; and the wind ceased, and they were very amazed among themselves, and marveled. – Mark 6:47-51
When I was reading this passage recently, three images raced through my mind:
- Jesus walking through a chaotic sea and declaring, “I am!” (some translations use the literal translation of the phrase ἐγώ εἰμι here, “I am,” while others use “It is I”) causing order to be restored to the sea
- the voice of God declaring to Moses “I am who I AM!” from the dancing light of the burning bush (Exodus 3: 14)
- a watery, tumultuous chaos being breathed into order with a voice (Genesis 1:2-3)
In addition to his direct references to the Hebrew Scriptures (“It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of God’s mouth.'” Matthew 4:4 referencing Deuteronomy 8:3 or “For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother;’ and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him be put to death.'” Mark 7:10 referencing Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 5:15, Exodus 21:17, and Leviticus 20:9, for example), Jesus is prolific in demonstrative allusions (for example, when Jesus feeds the 5000 in Mark 6, he has the people sit in groups of hundreds and fifties – reminiscent of when Moses organized the leadership structure of Israel by setting capable men as “officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens” in Exodus 18:25; or when Jesus chose twelve disciples in Mark 3:14-19 – twelve tribes of Israel, anyone?).
So, could Jesus be making a physical allusion here to the creation story in Genesis 1? Could he be trying to bring to the minds of his disciples the watery chaos ordered by the breath and words of God? Or the voice calling out of a burning bush “I am”? Or maybe both?
We know that later in Jesus’ story the simple act of breaking bread at the dinner table awakens the recognition of who he truly is when his words and teachings failed to reach the heart of Cleopas and his travelling companion (Luke 24: 13-35), so it is not out of character for Jesus to use such methods.
Jesus often brings the minds of his disciples back to the Hebrew Scriptures by asking them to remember a law or teaching or story. It appears that, sometimes, he shows rather than tells.