Mark 6:50

for all of them saw him, and were terrified. But Jesus at once spoke to them. “Courage!” he said,“it is I; do not be afraid!”

just then
in terrors midst
when crazy
disorients disorientation
driving us twice as far
into a foot-sucking slough

just then
a light-footed faun
shifts from tripping up
to topping up
relax WE ARE
no fear

Were the pond still, we can imagine a strong surface tension (perhaps enough to hold one up if feet were broad enough). But the waters are roiling. Anyone moving over the face of this deep goes beyond our understanding. The Twelve represent well our experience of G*D once we get beyond pat phrases and repeated praises. Terror, confusion, and trouble right here are all ways we know we are beyond awe and in a wilderness of testing.

Caught between wanting this apparition to pass by, which it seems was its intention, and wanting Jesus to step in, we are at sixes and sevens—an internal reflection of our external setting.

This trouble we are in traps us in our fear. From previous accounts of people being troubled, we might remember “angelic” visitations that offered an encouraging word, “Peace”. That same pronouncement is here in the form of the result of “Peace”—“Courage”. [Note: This is a two-way street. Peace gives courage to act. Courage to act brings peace.]

One of the questions is why a goodly many translations translate ἐγώ εἰμί (ego eimi, I am) as “It’s me”, when this same phrase in 13:6 and 14:62 has “I am”, G*D’s self-revelation to Moses in Exodus 3:14, “I am who I am”. This potential theophany scene stays in the ghostly here and now with the “weaker” (Aichele25), “It’s me” (which sounds more horrifying than calming in today’s post-Chucky context).

Even if the stronger language were here in English, any befuddled disciples initially responding as Moses did, there is an official end-bracketing of “I am” with an official word of “Peace”.

This strange scene in Mark doesn’t quite make it to a full blown appearance of G*D by a Human One. Nonetheless, “Courage” before a revelation of G*D and “Peace” after is a helpful model upon which we can see our life and lives bob, bob, bobbing along. Courage and Peace, here and elsewhere, are both singular and plural.

Mark 6:49

But, when they saw him walking on the water, they thought it was a ghost, and cried out;

a ghost
by any other name

unexplained healings
what were those feedings

in their moments
we got caught up

delayed PTSD
sees another anomaly

struggling sailors
know long odds

in the end
a keening scream

Exhausted by being tortured by rowing against an overwhelming storm at sea, it is easy to have our thinking get out of whack. In a small fashion my bicycling from Madison, WI to Boston, MA brought an exhausted time when thinking went backward and a prayer went up that the trees would stop waving so the wind would stop.

On a proverbially “dark and stormy night”, while worn down with water in every eye from exertion (salty) and rain and spray, any form takes on more than itself. Recognition of a dear friend can be glimpsed in many a crowd by just one characteristic or discounted in a location where they would be least expected to be present.

Apparently, still, one person’s intention is not clear to others. An intent to pass by appears false. There! That! It’s still coming closer. What are we going to do? And the closer it comes the more prepared we are to do the only recourse we have—scream for help! Even if there is no Coast Guard, we scream.

Regardless of how many rational explanations and extended midrashes as we come up with, we are probably dealing more with a revelatory story than an accurate accounting that can withstand every speculation thrown against it.

When we are caught in the throws of danger or concentration we are vulnerable to early tapes overwhelming our later learnings. Herod killed John. This storm is about to do us in. Here comes a demon we don’t recognize. The world is falling apart. Our acts of centering are failing us. The times are higgledy-piggledy. A Son of G*D won’t make it against the Romans. How can we click our heels together or knock the dust off our feet in this inhospitable situation?

Mark 6:48

Seeing them laboring at the oars – for the wind was against them – about three hours after midnight Jesus came towards them, walking on the water, intending to join them.

a wind block
raises frustration
exhausts energy
traps thinking

what else can be done
we might as well
sail into wet concrete
that sets around us

stuck just stuck
whether too much headwind
or too large a drag
just stuck stuck

trapped in persistence
an option to retreat
in place
passes us by

so caught
even our own
pass by

To see in the dark at the designated distance would indicate sight beyond the usual human range—telescopic and infrared.

Of course there is sight beyond visual stimuli. One of the unappreciated aspects of prayer is its connection with aboriginal Dreamtime, astral projection, particle entanglement, and any number of additional extra-sensory connections that can extend for untold distances.

However one goes about understanding this scene, we are on notice that something spooky is going on.

Our lives are very easily stuck with all our energy going into rowing against whatever force is blocking our progress. We are forever trying to find ways around, under, or over an opposing wind.

Finally, between 3:00 to 6:00 A.M., Jesus wanders out to see what is going on. Finding a normal human situation, our best efforts coming to naught, Jesus appears to simply pass by.

καὶ ἤθελεν παρελθεῖν αὐτούς (kai ēthelen paralthein autous, pass them by) is unique to Mark and is difficult. —“It can reasonably be translated by ‘began to pass by them’ or ‘made as though he would pass by them.’ Equally, the verb without a direct object can be rendered ‘join,’ ‘come to…’ Why Jesus would have passed them by we cannot know. We can only record the tradition.” [Mann305]

Of course readers are not limited by a tradition of a deus ex machine, a yellow submarine, or other way to avoid being stymied.

Mark 6:47

When evening fell, the boat was out in the middle of the sea, and Jesus on the shore alone.

in this time
it is becalmed evening
in dreamtime
tomorrow comes visiting

both continue
in realms separately joined
both reveal the other
foreground background

we soften our gaze
to move from a day’s passing
and focus our attention
to move toward unexplored joy

With Bethsaida around the corner, why was the boat in the middle of the lake? Perhaps their deserted place wasn’t where we thought it was. Mark’s sense of geography is less than helpful to those with a sense of the lay of the land.

With location being metaphorical, the middle of the lake is the equivalent of up a river with no paddle or another difficult time. Time, along with space, can also be suggestive rather than accurate in regard to some recognized standard. As “darkness comes” is time’s way of indicating every experience of uncertainty.

It is important to ask about prayer at this point. Jesus is off to do it. What manner of prayers did the Twelve employ as they entered the boat? What about entering evening on the water? Or when things get dicey a bit later? Where is prayer all along the way?

Communal prayers are as needed as prayers when one is alone. Communal prayers are more difficult to put together or pause to listen to.

We’ve heard this story before. We remember a directly similar scene from another night on the Lake. We can also begin to hear similarities beyond a boat after Dark. Three disciples are invited to travel up a mountain to witness a transfiguration. We won’t be overly surprised to also hear connections with another transformation; this time with Twelve on a lake.

Whether Jesus is along or not, there is an adventure around every corner that will ask us to push beyond our latest engagement with ourselves, the world around, or a partnership beyond all reason.

One of the places we need to wrestle a bit is with the relationship between Jesus praying and the Twelve on the move. Enjoy these theodicy questions: Does Jesus pray for a storm for the Twelve to learn from? If not, was Jesus lax in praying for safety for others?

Mark 6:46

After he had taken leave of the people, he went away up the hill to pray.

another mountain
another prayer

a dead sea
a death valley
sahara gobi

everywhere we be
mountain top possibilities
rise from no-where
to view every-where

first we say goodbye
fasting from relationships
commencing a vision quest

settling one stage further
up a seven-storied life

With Mark readers can’t escape ambiguity. The good-bye mentioned here can be a mild bidding of farewell, a bit stronger taking leave, and an even stronger, “get rid of”. Of course we have our images of Jesus that have built over the millennia that project all manner of manners upon this human one. The reader will make of it what they will.

Regardless of the style of parting, there is also a live question as to whether the “them” mentioned refers to the Twelve or the Crowd. Here, again, the reader has a choice to make as the style may be different depending upon to whom a good-bye is directed.

Jesus regularly prays in a variety of places. Jesus’ first time away in Mark is to a desert for testing, which shapes one’s prayer [1:12–13]; when a whole town gathered he sought out a deserted place for prayer which led to expanding his range [1:35]; having gone to a shoreline (to pray?), a crowd gathered and Levi was called [2:13–14]; a mountain was ascended and resulted in the Twelve being called up and appointed [3:13]; later, upon a mountain, a transfiguration [9:2ff.], and coming down will be a prayerful exorcism [9:14ff.]; even on a road, Jesus can get out ahead (praying?) ]10:32]; perhaps as a surprise we can imagine Jesus looking for prayer in the Temple [11:11] and returning later to insist upon it; prayer goes on within a garden of olive trees in the context of a sleeping triumvirate [14:32ff.]; prayer may be particularly present with a cone of silence in the midst of a trial [15:5]; a prayer continued in the presence of crucifixion pain [15:34] and concluded in a tomb [16:6].

Prayer by prayer, the story of the beginning of good news shifts forward and calls for a revisiting and applying. The first testing in the desert sets the rest in motion. When able to pray and thus retreat in the face of wilderness testing, either wild or ordinary, life is full.

Mark 6:45

Immediately afterward Jesus made his disciples get into the boat, and cross over in advance, in the direction of Bethsaida, while he himself was dismissing the crowd.

a crowd a flock
is like any other
and also not

individuals writ large
conflicted dissonance
commonly denominated

awaiting a hive-mind
searching for a shepherd
ready but inept

received and taught
exercised and fed
eventually dismissed

dandelion seeds
blown into tomorrow
a shepherd’s decision

a time to gather
a time to scatter
turn and turn again

With people fed, there comes an urgency to be off on another adventure.

Did Peter have the Boatswain’s Call and pipe “Still”, Jesus gave instructions, and Peter then piped, “Carry On”? If not this organized, how do you envision Jesus urging, commanding, compelling the Twelve back into the boat?

Presumably the Twelve were still in an oppositional mode or they wouldn’t need to be sent off without Jesus’ presence—remember what happened the last time Jesus wasn’t with them (going to sleep is practically being gone)? Sailors and fisher folk have their own superstitions and it doesn’t take much to spook them. If Good Luck Charm Jesus wasn’t going to be with them to see them through a difficulty, their wariness quotient rises.

Mark is not all that helpful with his geographical references. They seem to be more metaphorical than cartographically precise. It appears that Bethsaida is just around the corner and so it shouldn’t be a long journey or one requiring to get out into Lake Galilee very far. When we remember the crowd arriving ahead of the crew, it might be that Jesus just needed to stretch his legs, Prayer Jog to Bethsaida, and arrive ahead of the Twelve.

At any rate, the boat was launched.

In anticipation of Jesus having the moment of respite that was needed by both himself and the Twelve as they reported on their commissioned work, Jesus turns to bless the crowd on their way. This may well have been a traditional blessing that signified the end of this teaching and feeding time. It may have been something short, “Bye, Bye!” or crafted for the occasion, “You’re full to overflowing, so overflow into other’s lives that together your hearts might be changed.”

Mark 6:44

The people who ate the bread were five thousand in number.

at first a crowd
everyone out for their own
now they and their hairs
are numbered
one by one by one
and met in fifties
hundreds and thousands
with a new commonness
beyond individual need

it was the teaching
that caught us off-guard
when we came for the healing
stayed for an announcement
deepening within us
connecting hope to action

we still don’t get
how to organize
heaven on earth

but we do know when is now

At the end of this story we hear of 5,000 being fed without an expression of astonishment.

Those present may not have known a feat of food multiplication or cloning had gone on. The Twelve wanting to send folks away but instructed to find what was available to feed the crowd, may well have stopped after finding 5 loaves and 2 fish with an expectation that surely Jesus would now send the busybodies away.

Even Jesus’ looking prayerful wouldn’t signal anything out of the ordinary. Perhaps a simple blessing was heard, “Barukh Attah Adonai, sower of seed and harvester of bread.” So ordinary as to not draw attention but live within expectation.

While the Greek is clearly about 5,000 males, there is no need for the reader to limit those who shared in the bounty to men only. It may even be more helpful to use this ending as a palin for the last feasting/feeding we heard about. Herod’s formal feast of powerful people ended in the death of 1, John. This feeding of a powerless crowd of people feeling their need, ends in the filling or revival of 5,000.

Thus ends a cycle:

• Twelve commissioned and reliant upon hospitality

• Herod Feasting, Salome Dancing, John Dying

• Twelve report on their work

• Jesus Insisting, Twelve Gathering, 5,000 Feeding

Seen in alteration, we find a reviving of exhausted people as a sign contrary to dissipation, foolishness, and murder. Only feeding three people (Elijah, a widow, and a widow’s son) would do as a sign. Feeding 5,000 is hospitality writ large; a harvest of great abundance.

Mark 6:43

and they picked up enough broken pieces to fill twelve baskets, as well as some of the fish.

did you know
the disciple’s nickname

they were basket cases
until called
to hold learning

and a tisket a tasket
pulled out treasures
along the way

continually retreating
to everyday provisions
leftovers supreme

As captivating as large numbers are—this throng grouped into 50s and 100s or later reports of at least 5,000 and 4,000 people—it is the smaller number of 12 that intrigues.

There are obvious connections with Twelve Followers and Twelve Tribes. In the context of this story, 12 is excess value. There is enough and more. Whether Followers or Tribes, they are excess value oriented. If they are not a blessing for others, they might as well not be taking up space or wasting time.

I remember this in my latest regular blessing:

Mercy and Joy abound

take Plenty

and More to Pass Around

After reporting the gift of living in expectation of hospitality and a trust there will be enough, the Twelve had suddenly, urgently, come away without time to eat and, presumably, without provisions. The bread and fish they finally found among those in the crowd who were hospitable enough to share, became bread seed and fish seed multiplied 30, 60, and 100 times—a living parable. Such excess was evidenced by an extra basketful of plenty to pass on to people as they were blessed on their way to a next day—“Plant this bread seed and fish seed in the lives of those you meet.”

The bread and fish that came from the crowd for the crowd, Twelve, and Jesus grew to be sufficient to distribute to at least one degree more of separation (those the crowd will next meet). Presumably excess value will continue to echo and generate additional seed.

This well-graced event has overtones of what we have come to know as the Eucharist or Communion (a ritual worthy of a capital letter). The reader will need to wrestle with a tension of whether their experience of such a Bountiful Feast, Grace, or Dayenu is of the everyday or lives only within an authorized liturgical structure. This calls for reflection on the fullness of whatever size “basket” is our life.

Mark 6:42

Everyone had sufficient to eat;

eat my lovelies
your journey is long
loneliness long
you’ll need reserves

there are insufficiencies enough
in every tempting test
without a blessing condiment adds focus
against otherwise fainting from hunger

little do we know
when a next manna outbreak
will be loosed
who can explain it

Everyone (crowd, disciples, and Jesus found themselves Fed, Full, Satisfied!

This is the Economy of Grace from days of yore.

If anyone is excluded from this economy, the whole system eventually starves. An empty stomach or other emptiness rebels in the midst of privileged resources.

Myers78 brings us the insight:

The survival and well-being of people and their communities [in their testing time] take precedence over profit for a few, one person or community or nation does not walk on the back of others to get ahead; the “development” of the human family cannot take place at the expense of the rest of creation; who we are is not measured by how we earn a living, or what possession we have. We who are followers of Jesus must try to make these values real in our world so that there will be “enough for everyone.”

As we listen in on a story that brings enough, it is helpful to review a sense of Dayenu, remembered from page 136. In its Hebrew origin we might translate it as Day(enough)enu(to us). It is a communal word as it rehearses, remembers, palins, the course of events leading to this moment. It would have been enough were the world still only a formless void or enough that Manna (whatever it is) came in a desert to see us through or enough that Mary only heard an announcement or enough when our latest joy came at a needful time.

Dayenu reminds us that we are fuller than we knew, even when starving on a purposeful Exodus or in a random concentration camp. We remember that at some point we were full to satisfaction, even if we are now undergoing chemotherapy. Such fullnesses remind us of the blessing of being partnered with G*D and Neighb*r, even when less than full or fully empty. A Miracle of Enough is transformative.

Mark 6:41

Taking the five loaves and the two fish, Jesus looked up to heaven, and said the blessing; he broke the loaves into pieces, and gave them to his disciples for them to serve out to the people, and he divided the two fish also among them all.

we try so hard
to make sense of experience
to conform strange to known

how large need bread be
will a Jonah-size fish be enough
are we constrained by real numbers

inquiring minds raise more questions
than there are reasonable responses
distracted we make stuff up

heaven is declared to be up
rather than an inward third eye
exclusive of those in front of us

shift the image to paradise
we suddenly know thankfulness
every gesture pleases

gifts are set before us
insufficient in themselves
invoking ancient manna

a blessing of peace be to you
a piece for you and all is blessed
we’re all in together what a blessing

We are an enfleshed people who deal with life in its tangibleness. Mark begins this ritual by taking a firm hold on loaves of bread and fish. It is easy for them to crumble or slip-slide away.

From here we enter into partnership with a larger view than the surface of material items. A prayer, a listening, an agreement occurs as a way to dive into the very atomic structure of life.

Here we have a blessing based on the presence of bread and fish. This εὐλογησεν (eulogēsen, blessing) sees these objects and brings a new perspective or framing to them and/or recognizes their connection with everything else and is a word of thanks for their presence. There is a direct encounter and thankful connection made with what is already in place that goes back before they were and looks forward, thankfully, to where their energy will take us.

It is important to remember the Jewish tradition that objects were not blessed (like we do with guns at the beginning of hunting season or pets on the feast of St. Francis of Assisi). Blessing is directed at G*D. The elements come pre-blessed. Another way to put this—Jesus looked at the loaves and fish and blessed G*D.