Some of the context for today’s reading of the Gospel is found in John’s account of the multiplication of the loaves which closes with this verse: “Since Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry him off to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain alone” (Jn 6:15). Both Jesus and the people knew the Torah. In Deuteronomy 18:15-18, Moses shared that he was not the seal or end of prophetic tradition, he, like John the Baptist, pointed to one that would be greater than he.
As the five-thousand ate they talked among themselves, many may have then recalled how God fed the Hebrews in the desert, manna, bread from heaven. The miraculous multiplication mingled with the manna remembrance, comingled with the already growing messianic hope, could make a good case for why the people began to believe that Jesus was the “Prophet, the one who is to come into the world” (Jn 6:14), and then they rose to make him their king.
Recognizing their motivation and lack of understanding of the fullness of the kingship he would indeed assume, Jesus withdrew back higher up the mountain upon which he saw the people coming to him in the first place. The people presumably camped where they had eaten since evening drew near. Separation occurred between Jesus and the people because they moved to make him into something he was not. He refused, as he did during his fast in the desert, to give in to the temptation of power, pride, and honor. In doing so, he was helping the people to understand who he was and the true Messiah he would become.
The disciples were also separated from Jesus. They set out on the sea and headed toward Capernaum, and would be reunited in the midst of the rough sea of Galilee. Already full of anxiety, because they were being tossed about by the waves, their fear grew as Jesus came closer to their boat, walking on the water. He calmed them as he said, “It is I. Do not be afraid” (Jn 6: 20).
The people present at the multiplication, the disciples, nor us today fully comprehend Jesus, for he embodies the fullness of humanity and divinity. He is not ours to tame. Jesus comes to us, is present to us, he loves and is willing to walk among us through all our trials and tribulations, as well as our joys and exaltations. Though, what he will not do is be untrue to himself or to who he calls us to be. If we want to be fulfilled in this life, we need to let go of making Jesus in our image and likeness. Instead, with humility, we are invited to accept the great gift of his grace which is participation in his life, such that we become conformed to his will. We need to decrease, so that he may increase. We need to die in him, so that he may live in us.
In our willingness to surrender to the will of Jesus, we are able to keep our eyes focused on him. This does not mean our life will be perfect. There will continue to be challenges and conflict, in actually, the closer we come to Jesus they will increase, because we live in a fallen world. The difference is that we will experience the closeness of Jesus in the midst of going through our conflicts, trials, and storms in this life.
We will grow stronger in our faith and trust in Jesus, and be more able to help others along the way to do the same, when we are willing to collaborate in the life of Jesus. In this free act of our will, we are aligning ourselves with the infinite power and ground of our being. In our participation with Jesus, we have access to his power working in and through us, we become agents of stillness and calm for ourselves and others, even in the midst of the storms of our everyday lives. “Be not afraid!” Trust in Jesus! For with him we can walk through any storm.
Painting: “Christ Walking on the Water”, Julius Sergius von Klever, early 1900’s