Wednesday, January 9, 2019
1) Opening prayer
God, light of all nations,
give us the joy of lasting peace,
and fill us with Your radiance
as You filled the hearts of our fathers.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
2) Gospel Reading - Mark 6:45-52
After the five thousand had eaten and were satisfied, Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side toward Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. And when he had taken leave of them, he went off to the mountain to pray. When it was evening, the boat was far out on the sea and he was alone on shore. Then he saw that they were tossed about while rowing, for the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them. But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out. They had all seen him and were terrified. But at once he spoke with them, "Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid!" He got into the boat with them and the wind died down. They were completely astounded. They had not understood the incident of the loaves. On the contrary, their hearts were hardened.
• After the multiplication of the loaves (yesterday’s Gospel), Jesus ordered the disciples to go into the boat. Why? Mark does not explain this. The Gospel of John says the following. According to the hope people had at that time, the Messiah would repeat the gesture of Moses and would feed the multitude in the desert. This is why, before the multiplication of the loaves, the people concluded that Jesus must be the expected Messiah, announced by Moses (cf. Dt 18:15-18) and they wanted to make Him a King (cf. Jn 6:14-15). This decision of the people was a temptation for Jesus as well as for the disciples. For this reason, Jesus obliged the disciples to take the boat and leave. He wanted to avoid the risk of them being contaminated with the dominant ideology, because the “leaven of Herod and of the Pharisees” was very strong (Mk 8:15). Jesus Himself faces the temptation through prayer.
• Mark describes the events with great art. On one side, Jesus goes up to the mountain to pray. On the other, the disciples go toward the sea and get into the boat. It almost seems like a symbolical picture which foreshadows the future: it is as if Jesus went up to Heaven, leaving the disciples alone in the midst of the contradictions of life, in the fragile boat of the community. It was night. They are in the high seas, all together in the small boat, trying to advance, rowing, but the wind was strong and against them. They were tired. It was night, between three and six o’clock in the morning. The communities of the time of Mark were like the disciples. In the night! Contrary wind! They caught no fish, in spite of the efforts made! Jesus seemed to be absent! This is very symbolic of the times. But He was present and came close to them, and they, like the disciples on the way to Emmaus, did not recognize Him (Lk 24:16).
• At the time of Mark, around the year 70, the small boat of the communities had to face the contrary wind on the part of some converted Jews who wished to reduce the mystery of Jesus to the prophecies and figures of the Old Testament, as well as some converted pagans who thought it was possible to have a certain alliance between faith in Jesus and the empire. Mark tries to help the Christians to respect the mystery of Jesus and not to want to reduce Jesus to their own desires and ideas.
• Jesus arrives walking on the water of the sea of life. They scream, taken up by fear, because they think that it is a ghost. As it happens in the passage of the disciples on the way to Emmaus, Jesus pretends that He wants to continue to walk (Lk 24:28). But they cry out and this causes Him to change the way. He gets close to them and says, “Courage, it is I, do not be afraid!” Here, once again, for one who knows the story of the Old Testament, this recalls some very important facts: (a) Remember that the people, protected by God, crossed the Red Sea without fear; (b) Remember that God, calling Moses, declared his name several times, saying, “I am He who is!” (cf. Ex 3:15); (c) Remember also the Book of Isaiah which represents the return from the exile as a new Exodus, where God appears, repeating numerous times, “I am He who is!” (cf. Is 42:8; 43:5,11,13; 44:6,25; 45:5-7). This way of recalling the Old Testament, of using the bible, helped the communities to recognize the presence of God in Jesus and in the facts of life. Do not be afraid!
• Jesus got into the boat and the wind ceased. But the disciples’ fear, instead of disappearing, increases. Mark the Evangelist criticizes them and says, “They had not understood what the miracle of the loaves meant, and their minds were closed” (6:52). The affirmation that their minds were closed reminds us of the heart of Pharaoh which was hardened (Ex 7:3,13,22) and of the people in the desert (Ps 95:8) who did not want to listen to Moses and thought only of returning to Egypt (Num 20:2-10), where there was plenty of bread and meat to satisfy them (Ex 16:3).
4) Personal questions
• Night, stormy sea, contrary wind... Have you ever felt like this? What have you done to overcome it?
• Have you been afraid so many times because you have not known how to recognize Jesus present and acting in your life?
• How does this passage apply to me personally and to the Church today, with all the world problems and challenges?
5) Concluding prayer
He has pity on the weak and the needy,
and saves the needy from death.
From oppression and violence He redeems their lives,
their blood is precious in His sight. (Ps 72:13-14)