Mark 7.03After feeding the crowds, Jesus puts us in the boat and sends us across the lake.

But as soon as we shove off, we’re fighting a headwind. It is so strong, we can’t raise the sail. “Oars in the water, Boys! Put your backs into it!” We row all night.

I am hanging onto an oar as dawn breaks, so tired and sore I’m barely functioning. In spite of our work, first light shows we are still only half-way across the Sea. I make another feeble stab with the oar, facing back in the direction from which we’ve come, wondering whether we should just give up and let the wind blow us back to where we began.

That’s the moment when I see something on the water … a shadow in the gloaming … a stain obscured by mist and spray.

I stop rowing and squint harder. The shadow looks like someone walking towards us, head bent against the wind, arms pumping. I laugh, thinking I must be more weary than I imagined. Than I wipe water from my face and squint again.

The image shivers and shudders, then focuses with sudden clarity. I drop my oar and watch as it slips out of its thole-pins and floats away on the waves. I jump up from my bench and stumble backwards against James. I point a trembling finger at the apparition behind us, the specter walking on the sea, gaining on us, coming closer and closer.

I scream, “Ghost!” Heads snap up and follow my pointing finger. Eyes widen. They see it too. Other oars slip away. We’re all pushing away from the specter, crowding dangerously into the bow. The boat starts to ship water. Everyone is as terrified as I am. We’re screaming and wailing. We’re thinking “This is it. Either the ghost or the deep.”

Suddenly, a familiar voice comes across the water. The ghost resolves into a figure we recognize. “It’s me. Don’t be afraid.” (Mk 6:50). The relief is like a warm blanket … an immediate and comforting awareness … I can breath again. In a heartbeat, my terror turns to embarrassment. It’s not a ghoulish spirit after all … it’s just Jesus.

Reassured, we crawl back to our benches, looking sheepishly at each other, shamed by our childish fears. So rapid is our relief, in fact, that it takes a moment for us to realize Jesus has been walking on the water. He’s walking on the water! Ghoul or no, he is striding through the waves faster than the twelve of us can row. His hair is wet from the wind-blown foam. The hem of his robe is soaked. But the water could have been a Roman road, for all it mattered to Jesus. He puts forward a sandaled-foot and steps on the waves as though they were cobblestones.

He reaches the boat and hoists a leg over the gunwhale. He clambers onto a bench beside me. The wind drops. The sea calms. We sit in stunned silence, every eye locked on him, oars forgotten, boat adrift.

Now I’m not just embarrassed, I’m ashamed. Of course he is here with us in the boat. Of course he can walk on water. Anyone who can bend five loaves and two fish to meet the needs of five thousand hungry mouths doesn’t need a bridge or boat to navigate a lake. Anyone who can raise the dead can step on water as though it were hard-packed earth.

Why am I still surprised Jesus can do anything he wants … after all this time … after all I’ve seen?

I see the accusation forming in his eyes but I beat him to the punch—at least in my mind and heart. “Yes,” I want to shout, “I’m dim … blind … slow … thick. I can’t add two and two, spiritually speaking. My heart is hard. I don’t get it!”

But I don’t say that, of course. Instead, I shake my head in wonder and hold out my hand in apology and tell him it’s his turn at the oars for awhile.

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