This Sunday we are back in John. The Lectionary gives us John’s version (John 6:1-21) of the bits of Mark they edited out last week (Mark 6:35-52).
The same basic material is here:
- Jesus & Co. have sailed across the sea.
- People on land rushed to where Jesus was going and got there first.
- Jesus fed the 5000 guests with five loaves and two fish.
- The disciples sailed off while Jesus stayed back alone.
- When the disciples were tossed by a storm Jesus walked across the sea to help them — which, as you might expect, freaked them out.
John’s version is peppered with tiny difference in the details. Some of these ring the melody notes of John’s Gospel, and others are just intriguing.
- The reason the crowd came was “they saw the signs” Jesus was doing.
- It all happened when “the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near.”
- Jesus himself sets up the feeding miracle, asking Philip where to get bread for the crowd.
- After the meal, when they fill twelve baskets of leftovers, it is because Jesus says, cryptically, he wants nothing to be wasted.
- When Jesus withdraws alone it is not to pray but because he knows the crowd will otherwise make him king.
- When Jesus comes, walking on the water, the miracle does not happen when Jesus comes into the boat, but because “Then they wanted to take him into the boat…”
- And the miracle itself is not that the storm was stilled, but that they suddenly found themselves on the other side: “…and immediately the boat reached the land towards which they were going.”
My attention, though, goes to Jesus’ words to the floundering sailors as he walks toward them on the sea.
In the NRSV it has a sort of Shakespearean pomposity:
It is I; do not be afraid.” (John 6:20, NRSV)
Whatever translation you use, it probably sounds much the same. But those first word are key, and they are weighty. They need a more literal translation. Here they are in Greek:
says Jesus. That’s
If you’ve spent much time in John’s Gospel you’ve probably heard about the “I am” sayings that are sprinkled through it. They point to how John is different from Matthew, Mark, and Luke, called the “synoptic” Gospels because they all take a similar viewpoint.
- In the “Synoptic Gospels” Jesus teaches about the Kingdom of heaven.
- In John, Jesus teaches about Jesus — he mentions the Kingdom only three times.
Instead of talking about the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God, in John Jesus says “I am” a lot. Like two dozen times.
By contrast each of the Synoptics use the phrase five or fewer times — and they are not all about Jesus.
Of course when John uses the phrase, Jesus is not always saying “I am the XYZ.” But in almost every case, Jesus is saying something very significant about himself:
I am the good shepherd,
I am the light of the world,
I am the bread of life,
I am the true vine,
… you remember.
And you get the significance of it all when you hear Jesus saying
Before Abraham was, I AM.” (John 8:58)
That is intended to remind you of the scene of the burning bush in Exodus where Moses asked God for his name. You got it:
So Jesus, throughout the Gospel of John, is trying to get across the point across he emphasized in John 8:58. We are supposed to see that Jesus is the living and eternal God, who has come in the flesh.
All that is pretty explicit. It is John’s exposition of his opening assertion that
In the beginning was the Word … and the Word was God. … And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory…” (John 1:1-14)
So look at the scene again.
The disciples go off in a boat.
A storm comes up on the sea — but Jesus is not there.
Jesus comes walking toward them on the sea — totally freaky. What is he doing there? He can’t be walking on the water. No way!
But Jesus calls out
Don’t be afraid my friends. You thought I was just a guy like you. I am like you — but also,
He’s telling them, first in his action by walking on the water, then clear as a bell in his words, that he is God in the flesh.
That’s why he can say next,
Don’t be afraid.
Don’t be afraid when the wind whips up the waves, because the one who is with you is God in the flesh.
Don’t be afraid even though you are sailing over the depths that could swallow you up and drown you, because the one who is with you is God in the flesh.
And take this big scene as a symbol, a metaphor, because you and I are sailing over some deep water right now, with some waves that look a lot higher than our little boats. Jesus is standing on those waters. Jesus says
I am. Don’t be afraid.
This is the second of what I think of as John’s “secret” ‘I am’ sayings. There are others. Most English translations hide them. John’s Greek shows that we are intended to see them.
Interestingly enough, this is the one “I am” saying that both Matthew and Mark share with John. In all three Gospels, Jesus says to them from the surface of the sea
I am. Don’t be afraid.” (John 6:20, Matthew 14:27, Mark 6:50)
God seems to want us to get the point.
And especially since John spends his whole Gospel hammering the issue, we should consider whether these two simple words are a summary of the good news in stormy times.
My “Monday Meditations” are my own exploration of the Gospel assigned for the coming week in the Revised Common Lectionary. I’d love to send them (along with my other new articles and announcements) straight to your inbox. Just scroll down to the black box with the orange button and subscribe to my weekly(ish) newsletter.