SET-2: Season of Kaitha
Jesus multiplied five loaves of bread and two fish for feeding a vast multitude of listeners, which included five thousand men, apart from women and children. They believed Jesus as the Messiah, the foretold eternal king of Israel. Since Jesus’ kingdom was inconsistent with their worldly understanding, he declined their offer to make him king and went up a mountain to pray. Before that, he compelled his disciples to go to Capernaum across the Sea of Galilee on the only available boat. A whirlwind hit the disciples while they reached the middle of the lake. Jesus approached them, walking on the water. They misunderstood Jesus as a ghost and became terrified. Jesus revealed himself as “I AM,” meaning God. When Jesus entered the boat, the sea became calm, and they instantly reached their destination.
The previous day’s listeners arrived at the location where Jesus had preached and could not find him there. Along with the people who came from Tiberius in the boats, they sailed across the sea and met Jesus. Understanding their intention to seek material benefits from him, Jesus introduced the concept of the Holy Eucharist as nourishment for eternal life. When we work with the Church for Jesus in this world, we also might face storm-like challenges. Let us trust in Jesus, who is safeguarding his Church and gain strength from the Holy Eucharist and the Word of God.
BIBLE TEXT (JOHN 6:16-24)
Jesus Walks on the Water
(Jn 6:16) When evening came, the disciples went down to the shore of the sea. (17) They got into a boat to make for Capernaum. It was now dark and Jesus had not yet come to them. (18) But the sea was getting rough because a strong wind was blowing. (19) They had rowed about five or six kilometres, when they saw Jesus walking on the sea, and he was drawing near to the boat. They were frightened, (20) but he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” (21) They were glad to take him into the boat; immediately the boat was at the shore to which they were going.
Jesus, the Bread of Life
(Jn 6:22) Next day the people who had stayed on the other side realised that only one boat had been there and that Jesus had not entered it with his disciples; rather, the disciples had gone away by themselves. (23) Boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. (24) So, when they saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.
While Jesus was in Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews, at his own initiative, he healed a person who was ill for thirty-eight years at the pool called Bethesda. The Jews questioned Jesus for Sabbath violation because he healed on that day and, at his command, the recovered person carried his mat. They even attempted to kill Jesus, accusing of blasphemy based on the answer Jesus gave them. From there, Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee, where a large crowd followed him, including the residents of Tiberias. After preaching to them on a mountain there, Jesus multiplied five loaves of barley bread and two fish to feed his listeners, including five thousand men apart from women and children. Considering Jesus as the Messiah, they attempted to make him their earthly king, whereupon, Jesus withdrew to the nearby hills alone (Jn 5:1-6:15).
Jesus Walks on the Water
(Jn 6:16) When evening came, the disciples went down to the shore of the sea.
Matthew and Mark also report the same event with more details (Mt 14:22-33; Mk 6:45-52). According to Matthew, Jesus “made his disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side towards Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. And when he had taken leave of them, he went off to the mountain to pray” (Mk 6:45-46). Bethsaida is en route to Capernaum on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. The disciples also might have been excited with the multiplication of the bread and fish feeding a large crowd of listeners, including five thousand men. So, they would agree with the crowd about making Jesus the king of the Jews for their benefit as well.
Jesus wanted to exclude all people so he could be alone on the mountain for prayer. When Jesus compelled the disciples to go by themselves across the sea, they were reluctant to leave him alone in the evening. They knew the Master was tired after a long day of preaching, and he had no means to follow them across the lake. However, Jesus had his own plans to reach them.
(17) They got into a boat to make for Capernaum. It was now dark and Jesus had not yet come to them.
They got into a boat to make for Capernaum
After Jesus preached and multiplied the loaves of bread and fish to feed the five thousand on the east coast of the Sea of Galilee, he sent his disciples on a boat to the northwestern coast of the sea to Capernaum. It has another name, “The town of Jesus” because he had centred his Galilean ministry there. Though Jesus grew up in Nazareth, when he preached there, his own people rejected him and even attempted to throw him down a hill (Lk 4:28-30). He escaped that assassination attempt and moved to Capernaum to make it his base for preaching and serving the disadvantaged. Out of his twelve apostles, Peter, Andrew, James, John, and Matthew were from Capernaum. It had roads that led to faraway cities. So, it was a hub where Jesus could meet all kinds of people. Though a small village, Capernaum was part of Galilee, where most Jews lived. Notwithstanding his intensive preaching and miracles, that city lacked faith, causing Jesus to deride it later (Mt 11:23).
According to Mark, Jesus instructed the disciples to sail towards Bethsaida (Mk 6:45). Since it is to the north of the sea and along the way to Capernaum, Jesus gave the impression that he might join them at Bethsaida and proceed with them to Capernaum.
It was now dark and Jesus had not yet come to them
Once Jesus selected the apostles, they were travelling with him all the time, except on rare occasions. They were reluctant to leave Jesus alone on the desert mountain, though Jesus asked them to return to Capernaum. So, they might have waited until sunset, expecting Jesus to join them. After a long wait, the disciples had no other choice but to set sail across the lake without the Master. The dark night shows lack of moonlight or the presence of a thick cloud.
(18) But the sea was getting rough because a strong wind was blowing.
The Sea of Galilee, as it has been traditionally known, is not a sea as such but a lake. It is also known as “The Sea of Kinneret” (Num 34:11, Deut 3:17, Josh 11:2), “The Lake of Gennesaret” (Lk 5:1), and “The Lake of Tiberius” (Jn 6:1). This pear-shaped lake is only 21 km long from north to south and 13 km at the widest part, from east to west. The circumference of the lake is only 53 km, and its maximum depth is 43 metres. It is the lowest freshwater lake on earth and the second lowest lake in the world after the Dead Sea. The primary source of water to the lake is from the Jordan River, supplemented by springs from the streams and wadis of the hills of Galilee. The water level and the size of the lake have, over the centuries, dropped drastically.
Violent storms are a typical feature of the Sea of Galilee because of its low-lying position of seven hundred feet below sea level surrounded by hills. Though the lake is usually calm, sudden and violent storms do develop when the ice-cold wind comes over the snow-covered eastern mountains and drops through a funnel like narrow mountain valleys into the warm air of the sea. The strong wind from the mountains blow down into the sea, causing a whirlwind. Even the experienced fishermen on the boat could not control it.
(19) They had rowed about five or six kilometres, when they saw Jesus walking on the sea, and he was drawing near to the boat. They were frightened,
They had rowed about five or six kilometres
The Sea of Galilee was 13 km at the widest part, from east to west. Since the boat was about five to six kilometres away from the shore it meant that they were in the middle of the sea. The rowing was uncontrollable because of the heavy storm against them.
They saw Jesus walking on the sea
Though the disciples had seen Jesus performing miracles, they never had witnessed him walking on the surface of the sea. He had usually followed the law of nature, especially for his personal needs. Since Jesus was alone on the east coast of the Sea of Gennesaret with no boat or people to assist him, they could not expect Jesus to cross the sea. They might have thought of going back the next day to bring Jesus to Capernaum.
he was drawing near to the boat
When the disciples saw the strange scene of a person walking on the water at sea, they thought it was a ghost.
They were frightened
The disciples on the boat were frightened because:
1. The unexpected whirlwind happened when they were in the middle of the lake about five to six kilometres away from the shore.
2. It was “the fourth watch of the night” (Mt 14:25; Mk 6:48). The Romans had divided the night from 6 pm to 6 am into four watches of three hours each for civil purposes. So, the fourth watch was from 3 am to 6 am.
3. The sky was dark with no moon light possibly because of thick cloud or a new moon.
4. The disciples could not control the boat because “they were tossed about while rowing, for the wind was against them” (Mk 6:48; Mt 14:24). It was probably about to sink into the sea.
5. They saw a man in the darkness walking on the sea, which only a ghost could do according to their understanding at the time (Mt 14:26; Mk 6:49). They were so terrified that “they cried out in fear” (Mt 14:26), especially because they thought a ghost was passing by them (Mk 6:48-49).
Though Jesus was approaching the disciples by walking on the water with his divine power, and his intention was to save them, the disciples mistook him for a ghost, got terrified, and expressed it by crying aloud.
(20) but he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.”
“Do not be afraid”
Jesus grasped the fear of the disciples on the boat. He consoled them, proving he was not a ghost, and revealed himself. A comparable situation occurred on the day of Jesus’ resurrection. While the disciples were discussing in Jerusalem Jesus’ appearance to two disciples on their way from Jerusalem to Emmaus, he appeared in their midst. “They were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost” (Lk 24:37).
The third person of the Most Holy Trinity has been known as the Holy Ghost or the Holy Spirit. Ghost means “breath” or “spirit”. “Giving up of the ghost” means death. Hence, seeing a ghost means seeing the spirit or the soul of a deceased person. Since a human cannot walk on water, when they saw Jesus doing so, they mistook him for the treacherous ghost of a deceased person or an evil spirit approaching to attack them.
When Jesus told the disciples not to fear, he was reminding them of what God spoke to Israel through Isaiah. “Do not fear: I am with you; do not be anxious: I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand” (Isa 41:10). That gave them the courage that even in the physical absence of Jesus with them, he would be at their rescue when needed. He might even break the natural law for divine intervention.
“It is I”
When Jesus referred to himself as “I” or “I AM,” it was the revelation of his divinity. When Moses asked God for his name at Mount Sinai, He revealed “I AM” as His name (Ex 3:13-14). Through Isaiah, God implied the same name associated with the Saviour. “You are my witnesses – oracle of the LORD – my servant whom I have chosen. To know and believe in me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, and after me there shall be none. I, I am the LORD; there is no saviour but me. It is I who declared, who saved, who announced, not some strange god among you; You are my witnesses – oracle of the LORD. I am God, yes, from eternity I am he” (Isa 43:10-13a). On a different occasion, when Jesus used “I AM” for himself, the Jews attempted to stone him (Jn 8:56-59) because they understood Jesus as making himself equal to God. So, the disciples got a better understanding of Jesus from his words and his walking on the lake.
(21) They were glad to take him into the boat; immediately the boat was at the shore to which they were going.
Only Matthew presents another miracle where, at Peter’s request, Jesus invited him to walk on the water just as Jesus himself was doing. While Peter walked towards Jesus, he noticed how strong the wind was and he got frightened. “He cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’ After they got into the boat, the wind died down” (Mt 14:28-32).
They were glad to take him into the boat
When Jesus identified himself for real rather than as a ghost, the disciples’ fear turned to joy. They were glad to welcome him into the boat in their midst. John does not specify whether Jesus entered the boat. However, he must have done so, as documented by Matthew and Mark in their description of the same event (Mt 14:32; Mk 6:51). The sea became calm suddenly with the divine intervention of Jesus.
Immediately the boat was at the shore to which they were going
Unlike in Matthew and Mark, John presents another miracle that followed. While the disciples were conversing, they found their boat was at the shore of their destination. Throughout the night, they might have been struggling to reach Capernaum; but they could not because of the wild storm. Once Jesus approached them, everything immediately changed. The sea became calm, and the wind blew in favour of them taking their boat to their destination with no effort on their part. That also might have contributed to increase their faith in the divinity of Jesus because they noticed the difference in the voyage when they sailed first without and then with Jesus.
Reaction of the disciples
Though John does not present the reaction of the disciples at the end of the event, Matthew and Mark mention how the disciples expressed to Jesus their faith and devotion. According to Matthew, when Jesus and Peter got into the boat, “the wind died down. Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying, ‘Truly, you are the Son of God’” (Mt 14:32-33). Mark presents the scene differently – “He got into the boat with them and the wind died down. They were completely astounded” (Mk 6:51). According to Mark, this miracle of Jesus’ walking on the water was more convincing to them with regard to his divinity than the multiplication of the bread and fish that he had performed the previous day – “They had not understood the incident of the loaves. On the contrary, their hearts were hardened” (Mk 6:52).
Comparison of the boat and the Church
Why did Jesus let the disciples undergo such a frightening experience with a joyful ending? What did the disciples learn from that event? What should we understand on the basis of this narrative?
Though the people who benefited from Jesus’ multiplication of the bread and the fish attempted to make him king, he declined their offer. The disciples also might have wished the same so they could enjoy a higher position with Jesus in his earthly kingdom. Hence, Jesus wanted them to separate themselves from the crowd by sending them across the lake.
Though the disciples wished to stay with Jesus, or they wanted him to sail with them, Jesus compelled them to sail by themselves to give them the understanding that after his departure from them, they would lead the Church themselves in the world. Hence, the boat stands for the Church; the sea, the world; the thick darkness of the night along with the mighty storm, the adverse periods of Church history.
The apostles waited for Jesus until sunset. However, they noticed he was on the mountain in prayer for a long time. His climbing atop the mountain and conversing with the Father was symbolic of his ascension to heaven. When they started sailing in the Sea of Galilee, the sea was calm. Their destination was Capernaum, which stands for heaven, the final destination of the Church.
Though the sea was calm at the beginning, the sudden whirlwind came against the boat, making the sail uncontrollable. The boat was tossing about and was about to sink. The Church has throughout its history faced similar situations. Sometimes the Church was at peace. Other times, crises like persecution, disputes, division, or scandals shook it. The people involved in the crises felt like the Church was facing destruction. The leaders became helpless.
Jesus, though physically invisible, is the head of the Church. Parents generally keep watch over their children even when they are at a distance from them and intervene to save them in the event of a crisis. Similarly, Jesus is monitoring the Church and its members from heaven and intervenes in instances of danger at his own time. The conversion of Emperor Constantine in 312 AD, leading to the end of persecution and the beginning of the Christianization of the Roman Empire, was such an experience. It was a miraculous intervention after an extended period of Church persecution. However, the Church endured that terrible period with trust in God.
The frightening appearance of Jesus, like a ghost walking over water, is like his second coming on the clouds to rescue the faithful from evil, to destroy Satan forever, and lead his faithful to the fullness of the Kingdom of God. The mysterious arrival of Jesus made the disciples joyful, the sea calm, and reaching destination instant. The faithful followers of Jesus would enjoy the same at Jesus’ second coming after their hardships in this world.
Like the disciples who were in the boat, every Christian might face challenges in the practice of faith. We should realize that the Church will survive every storm in the world. Jesus would intervene in the crisis directly or through others to save the Church. He will come again to bring an end to all crises and lead his faithful disciples to the final destination. As followers of Jesus, let us trust in God and in His Son, Jesus. While doing our part to defend ourselves from the evil influences of the world, let us invoke the help of Jesus and accept his will in our lives.
Jesus, Bread of Life
(Jn 6:22) Next day the people who had stayed on the other side realized that only one boat had been there and that Jesus had not entered it with his disciples; rather, the disciples had gone away by themselves.
The people who had listened to Jesus’ preaching and experienced the miraculous feeding came to the eastern shore of the lake, where Jesus had preached to them the previous day. During the night, they had returned to their homes for rest. They had seen Jesus see off the disciples across the lake with the only boat in which they had reached there from Capernaum. They had also seen Jesus going to the mountain alone for prayer. So, they thought Jesus might be there, and they could see him again. They might have planned to insist on Jesus again to be their king because they believed Jesus was the Messiah whom they were expecting to come as the God-sent ruler of Israel forever. Jesus’ preaching, his miracles of mercy, especially feeding the enormous crowd, had convinced them of such a conclusion.
(23) Boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks.
Boats from Tiberias
The location of the City of Tiberias is on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. King Herod Antipas built it around 20 AD. He made it the capital of Galilee and named in honour of the Roman emperor Tiberius. It was near seventeen natural mineral hot springs. The conservative Jews were reluctant to settle there because of the presence of a cemetery that would make them and their priests ritually unclean. So Antipas settled the Gentiles there. Later, the Jews also inhabited there. Because of the prestigious city of Tiberias, the Sea of Galilee got another name, the Sea of Tiberias. Only John used this name to make the Gentiles better understand the location.
Boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread
The people from Tiberias were among the listeners of Jesus, who took part in eating the bread and fish he had multiplied. They had returned to their homes in their boats. In the morning, they returned by boats looking for Jesus. Their goal was to watch him do more miracles and listen again to his preaching. By adding this, the Evangelist could make sense of how the people from the east coast came to Capernaum in search of Jesus.
after the Lord had given thanks
This refers to Jesus’ miraculous multiplication of bread the previous evening. He did that after his homage to the Father and offering thanks to Him.
(24) So, when they saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.
when they saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there …
The previous days’ listeners of Jesus from the east coast of the sea and the people from Tiberias came in search of Jesus at the same location where Jesus spent the night in prayer to see him again. They knew the disciples had left in the only boat there and Jesus had gone up the mountain to pray. Hence, they expected Jesus to be there. However, they could not find him.
they got into the boats
Jesus was not at the location he had preached the previous day on the east coast of the lake. The people gathered there in the morning found it worthless to wait there. Instead of returning to their homes, they persisted in finding him wherever he was. They knew that Jesus’ centre of Galilean ministry was Capernaum. So, they sailed there by boat intending to see Jesus.
Not all the five thousand men were in the crowd of the next morning. Those gathered got in the boats of the people from Tiberias and in the boats on the east coast to sail to Capernaum. That shows their enthusiasm to see Jesus and to get favours from him.
and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus
Jesus and his disciples had reached Capernaum close to dawn after the disciples’ long night of struggle amid a powerful storm in the Sea of Galilee. The public did not know of their arrival there. The people on the east coast and in Tiberias assumed that they could meet Jesus in Capernaum and sailed there.
What happened next
The people who came in search of Jesus from Tiberius and from the east-coast of the lake achieved their goal of meeting Jesus at Capernaum. They asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” (Jn 6:25) because they knew Jesus had spent the night on a mountain across the lake. Jesus responded by commenting on their faulty intention of seeking earthly food that Jesus multiplied. Instead, they should have given prominence to the signs Jesus exhibited, proving him as the Son of God. He advised them, “Do not work for food that perishes but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you” (Jn 6:27). Comparing to the manna God gave through Moses to their ancestors for their physical survival in the desert for forty years, Jesus introduced himself as the living bread from heaven. “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst” (Jn 6:35). Though the statement was confusing to the people, Jesus prepared them and his disciples for the riches of the Holy Eucharist that he established during the Last Supper.
1. While preaching on the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus also took care of the physical needs of his listeners. The one who taught us to do acts of mercy practised it by feeding the hungry, healing the sick, and casting out demons. The Church has been following this model. How is our approach to the people in need?
2. The listeners of Jesus misunderstood him and sought to make him their earthly king. Jesus declined the offer, knowing his role as the Messiah. Do we deviate from our call from God to be servants of his people?
3. Jesus gave experience-based training to his disciples. So, he let them cross the lake at night by themselves to enlighten them as to the future of his Church. They understood the symbolic sense of the frightening experience they had at sea, followed by Jesus’ intervention of rescue. In the darkness and storms of our journey, let us remember that when we work for the kingdom of God, Jesus is watching over us and would rescue us in time.
4. The apostles did not give up their effort in the middle of their unsuccessful struggle against the storm. When we see dark moments and powerful storms in the Church’s history, let us not get frustrated and leave the Church. We must do our part as agents of Jesus to rescue the Church and give hope to its members in such circumstances.
5. Like parents watching their children remotely and reaching out for their rescue in times of crisis, Jesus is overseeing his Church and his faithful from heaven and intervening when necessary. Let us trust in the Lord and try to call upon him for help.
6. In the thick darkness of the night, Jesus approached his disciples as a bright human figure. That made them misunderstand Jesus as a ghost. When we are in the darkness of sin, we might misunderstand the bright people who come to save us. They are the God-sent persons with his message of deliverance, like our pastoral leaders, spiritual guides, or responsible parents.
7. Once Jesus entered the boat, the sea became calm, and they immediately reached Capernaum. When we let Jesus come into our lives, we gain spiritual calmness and reach heaven quickly.
8. The previous day’s listeners of Jesus were enthusiastic to see him again. They made every effort to cross the lake to meet him. Let us also be eager to pay attention to Jesus through Bible reading, Scriptural study, Sunday sermons, and retreats.
9. Those who came to Jesus appreciating his miraculous feeding, were advised by him to seek the spiritual food for eternal life. Let us nourish ourselves with the Holy Eucharist, and serve the Church and the less fortunate with the spiritual energy we gain from it.