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It is I, Do Not Be Afraid (Mark 6:45-52)

{ Tags: , , \ Jan5 }

Mark 6:45-52 is perhaps one of the most magnificent passages in the Marcan gospel.  Here, after the feeding of the multitudes, the Lord walks on a troubled sea, towards his disciples in order to quell their fears.  I talked about this during this evening’s mass.  Perhaps I was too “exegetical” in my approach.  Knowing however that the congregation needed “exegesis” more than mere reflections, I laid it on them … thick though it may have been.
I know that the recent Christmas celebrations exposed our people to the attacks of fundamentalists like the Ang Dating Daan and the Iglesya Ni Kristo who don’t celebrate Christmas because it is not in the Bible and because it was allegedly a pagan feast.  (They insist on this with the arrogance of sophomores who know little but who think they know more).  The Iglesya ni Kristo, especially, has consistently used this Marcan passage to point out that even the disciples commit mistakes in identifying the Lord.  In order to buttress this opinion they point out how the disciples out of fear called the Lord a “ghost.”  And they use this argument to explain away a confessional passage like Thomas’s “My Lord and My God.”  The Iglesya Ni Kristo are Arians.  They do not subscribe to the belief that Jesus is God.
The fact however is that if they read this passage closely, they’d find out that there are different indications in the passage that shows how Mark deliberately intends that his readers recognize in Jesus the God of the Exodus.  The first indication is the walking on the waters.  The psalmody of Israel proclaims God as one who walks on the waters as He leads Israel away from Egypt and into the Promised Land.  The second indication is the phrase “and he was to pass them by” reminiscent of God who passes by Moses in the act of revealing Himself.  The phrase “to pass by” with Jesus as the subject is used in Luke 24 in the story of the disciples of Emmaus.  In that story as in here, the act of passing by precedes a moment of revelation, just as in the case of Moses.  The third indication is the name “I Am” which has been glossed over by the translation “It is I”.  In Exodus 3, God reveals his Name by saying “I Am ‘I Am'”.  (Not I Am Who I Am since the Hebrew ‘asher can be translated as a colon or as a statement in quotation marks.)  This translation is consistent with the following verses where God says “If they ask you, tell them, I AM sent you.”  So when Jesus tells the disciples “I Am” he was actually telling them “Do not be afraid.  The God who saved Israel from the waters is here.”
All these allussions to the identity of the Lord, Mark tells us, was lost to the disciples because they did not understand the event of the loaves.

They were completely astounded. They had not understood the incident of the loaves. On the contrary, their hearts were hardened.

In the same way, knowing the Lord now will involve the “loaves” that we break and share with one another at Mass.  It is fitting that a passage about the manifestation of the Lord should end with an allussion to the Eucharist, just as in the story of the disciples on the way to Emmaus (Luke 24), their “bible study” about the Messiah ends with the recognition of the Lord in the Eucharist.

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