Jesus Walks on Water
Goal: To help the youth continue to develop their ability to read biblical texts critically and creatively.
Text: Mark 6:47-52 (see also Matthew 14:22-33, John 6:16-21)
1) Youth will explore the story of Jesus walking on water as found in the gospel of Mark.
2) Youth will consider what the story might be saying when seen at face value.
3) Youth will discuss other interpretive approaches to the text.
4) Youth will share how this story might be meaningful for us today.
This section in Mark opens with Jesus encountering the people in “a deserted place.” Through what appears to be a miracle, food is provided for all those present, and Jesus teaches them. Then Jesus goes up on the mountain to pray. Sound familiar? To a first century audience, the echoes of the Exodus story in this passage from Mark would have been loud and clear. Like Moses, Jesus gathers the people in a deserted place, provides them food, and then goes to the mountain to pray. The metaphorical message is clear: Just as God was present in the life and ministry of Moses, so the power of God is present in this man Jesus.
But the parallels don’t end there. Next, Mark tells us that Jesus sends the Disciples out in a boat to sail to the other side of the sea. The Disciples find themselves battling high winds and it is Jesus who appears and calms the wind and the waters – not unlike Moses commanding the waters of the Red Sea to part for the Israelites.
Again, these literary parallels would not have been missed by a first century audience. Just as God commanded the waters and winds of chaos in creation, and just as God worked through Moses to part the waters of the sea, in the same way God’s power is now at work in Jesus. It is worth noting that for first century people, water was a common symbol of Chaos, destruction, of the powers and principalities that threatened to rule the world. And so God’s presence is often depicted in a calming of those waters of chaos – Job speaks of God as “the one who trampled the waves of the sea.” (Job 9:8)
So here we have the disciples, out on the water (for the second time, actually, in Mark’s gospel), straining against the winds and the waves. In fact, Mark suggests that they are so preoccupied with their struggle that Jesus intends to “pass them by.” In the midst of the chaos of the waters, they see Jesus coming toward them – not skating on the ice, not stepping on stones, not wading at the shore – for to describe the story that way would be to miss the whole point. Jesus, walking on water, is right there in the midst of the storm, in the thick of their struggle and troubles. He doesn’t call out to the disciples to meet him on shore where everything is nice and calm! He goes to meet them – in the very midst of their fear.
1) Opening: Invite the youth to think about to when they were little children. Ask: What sorts of things were you afraid of when you were little? Are you still afraid of any of those things? What are you afraid of now? Share that today we are looking at another strange Bible story, this time from the gospel of Mark. Mark’s gospel has a lot to do with fear. In fact, the book ends with Jesus’ death, the male disciples running away in fear, and the women who discover the empty tomb also running off in fear, telling no one of what they saw. It might be interesting to see what Mark’s theme of “fear” and “Are you afraid to follow & trust Jesus?” plays out in today’s story.