How can a Christian explain the occurrence of walking on
Nature miracles in the Gospels present a challenge. It is
important to distinguish between attempts to explain the origin of
the narrative (if that is ever possible) and a meaningful
explanation of the story's significance. What happened historically
is probably beyond our grasp. A reverent agnosticism can relegate
factual details to a historical suspense account, to avoid making
an a priori judgement about what may or may not have
The story (Mark 6.45-52, Matthew 14.22-33, and John 6.15-21) has
often been given a natural explanation: that Jesus was seen walking
or wading in the shallows. It is sometimes argued that recollection
of some such ordinary incident was embellished in transmission to
acquire miraculous character - a process that continued in St
Matthew's retelling, and included St Peter's unsuccessful attempt
to walk on water towards Jesus. Others explain the story as a
mystical or paranormal experience; but many NT scholars take it to
be a displaced post-resurrection appearance.
An ingenious and plausible (albeit still speculative) version of
this theory is can be found in Patrick Madden's book Jesus'
Walking on the Sea (1997): that the nucleus of the story can
be found in John 21.1-8. A comparison with Mark 6.45-52 shows
affinities: fishermen in a boat, on the lake at night, and a
delayed recognition of Jesus at daybreak, when Jesus was revealed
"by the sea of Tiberias". It could be significant that the Greek
"epi tes thalasses" ("by the sea") is also used at Mark
6.49 to imply that Jesus walked on the sea, whereas, at John 21.1,
it describes him standing by the seaside, which may point to a
transformation of the story in traditions behind our Gospels.
The valuable task is to explore the real significance of the
story, what it meant to the Evangelists and the early Christians
who heard it, and, further, what it means in liturgical preaching
today. At this level of explanation, it is an awesome revelation of
Christ, ascribing to him the power and mastery of God as the Lord
of winds and waves, like God of old in Psalm 77.19 or Job 9.8. When
Jesus "intended to pass by them" (Mark 6.48), readers would be
reminded how God's glory passed before Moses (Exodus 34.6) and
Elijah (1 Kings 19.11).
Towering over all is the majestic affirmation - "I AM" -
"Ego eimi" - "Take heart; it is I." This
self-manifestation of the Living One who is ever present with his
people in their distress is the divine disclosure that gives this
story its numinous quality.
(Canon) Terry Palmer
Why is there such emphasis on recruiting young church
members? Why not focus on the 55-to-65s?
Out of the Question, Church Times, 3rd floor, Invicta
House, 108-114 Golden Lane, London EC1Y 0TG.