Brief Commentaries on St. John Chapter Six, Part Two: Walking on Water

As stated in Part One of this series of postings on the sixth chapter of St. John’s gospel, the entire chapter is to be taken as a whole — every verse relates to all other verses. Looking at the entirety of the chapter, it represents St. John’s teaching about the Eucharist. Hence, the second miracle found in this chapter is part of the whole, and gives meaning to Christ’s words found later in it. This second miracle found in chapter six is St. John’s account of Jesus’ walking on the water of the Sea of Galilee.

Both St. Matthew and St. Mark record the miracle of Jesus walking on the water sequentially following the miracle of the Feeding of the Five Thousand. (However, St. Luke does not follow their chronology.) In his account St. John omits some details found in, for example, St. Mark’s account (Mk 6: 45 -52), but adds others not included in the other gospel recordings. However, the act of Jesus’ walking on water is meant to have common interpretation.

First, there is in inverse parallel found in Israel’s crossing of the Red Sea. Though Israel, as humans, had to have the Sea parted to pass through its waters, Jesus, being both fully human and fully God, had no need to part the waters of the lake to make his way to his disciples. For the God-man has control over all materials he created — water, land — all are seemingly the same to the Creator.

There is a second note. Though the disciples were struggling against the wind and waves on the lake, Christ had no trouble with the storm. In fact, he calms the wind and waves as recorded in the other gospel accounts. The God-man controls all activities of nature. Putting these two notes together, the reader of this miracle is to come to a conclusion — Jesus is God! To clarify this fact for his readers, St. John quotes Jesus’ self-declaration of this fact. We find this in St. John 6: 19 – 20:

Therefore, after they had come twenty-five to thirty stadia, they observed Jesus walking upon the sea and coming near the boat, and they were afraid. But, Jesus says to them, “I am (ego eimi): do not fear.”

The Greek phrase ego eimi is to call the reader to another event in Exodus: God’s self-revelation to Moses in the Burning Bush. The Septuagint text when translated reads, “And God said to Moses, ‘I am the One who Is’ (Ego eimi ho on), and he said, ‘Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, The One who Is has sent me [Moses] to you’” (Ex 3: 14). The gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark also include Jesus’ self-revealing phrase, “I am.”

Throughout his gospel, St. John includes events not found in the Synoptic Gospels. Walking on the water reveals a secondary miracle: “Therefore, they were willing to receive him into the boat, and immediately the boat came to the shore to which they were going” (6: 21). The God-man reveals himself again! Here, normal temporal-spacial relationships, and our human experience of them, are compressed to a common point and moment. This just doesn’t happen within our three-dimensional existence. We are to learn that what is impossible for man is but nothing for God. Thus, St. John would have us keep this in mind as we read further into his gospel: the Eucharist is something beyond human experience, and certainly beyond what Israel had experienced prior to the Incarnation.

Other commentaries in this series:  Brief Commentaries on St. John Chapter Six, Part One: The Feeding of the 5,000 (6: 1 – 15)Brief Commentaries on St. John Chapter Six, Part Three: A Misused Objection is CounteredBrief Commentaries on St. John Chapter Six, Part Four: The Poetic Parallelism of St. John 6: 50 – 51

In Christ,
Fr. Irenaeus

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