When we meditate upon: Since Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry Him off to make Him king, He withdrew again to the mountain alone. [v.15], it helps to be aware of the nature of crowds and how, much like avalanches which begin gently at the top of a mountain with a slight movement of snow, and then cascade down with uncontrollable speed, to understand one reason why Jesus would get away from the crowd.
There are several aspects of this verse which merit closer meditation: a] the crowd moving towards Jesus to carry Him off; b] the attempt to make Him a king; c] Jesus withdrawing and d] alone to the mountain.
A] When Her Majesty the Queen, other members of the royal family, or the Governor General, or the Holy Father on his pastoral visits, come into view of the waiting crowd it is not unusual for people to press forward, gently, peacefully, so no one gets trampled.
Yet there are other circumstances when crowds of people can stampede, either from fear or unbridled enthusiasm, such as we all saw in New York when the towers came down, that was a flight of fear, whereas when the home team wins a major sporting event crowds can stampede onto the field to lift their heroes on their shoulders.
Sadly, be it stampeding from fear or enthusiasm people can get trampled, and seriously injured.
In the Gospel accounts presented each year in the Liturgies of Holy Week, the very crowds pressing forward crying “Hosanna” on Palm Sunday, will become the Good Friday mob rushing forward crying “Crucify Him!”
B] Unwittingly, no doubt, the crowd in its enthusiasm is seeking to accomplish what satan failed to tempt Jesus to do, namely abandon His divine mission and become a mere human potentate.
When Jesus urges us to learn from Him for “I am meek and humble of heart.” [Mt. 11:29], part of that learning is to embrace, with joy and fidelity, the Holy Will of the Father.
For Jesus the will of the Father encompasses fulfilling His divine mission as Redeemer which means, as King of the Universe embracing the humility and meekness of no gilded throne; the Cross becomes His throne; no bejeweled crown but one of thorns; no ornate palaces but rather a cave at birth and a tomb hewn from rock in death. No mere ersatz human majesty, but the glorious majesty of Resurrection.
C] St. John’s use of the word ‘withdrew’ is reminiscent of: They rose up, drove Him out of the town, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl Him down headlong. But He passed through the midst of them and went away. [Lk. 4:29,30].
In both St. John and St. Luke, we observe the uncontrolled nature of crowds. In both cases, in one to avoid being made a secular king, in the other to avoid death before ‘His hour’, Jesus leaves. These examples of Jesus withdrawing, avoiding if you will, anything that is not of the Holy Will of the Father is consistent with: …. I came down from heaven not to do My own will but the will of the One who sent Me. V.38.
This too is the example of the humble heart we are called to imitate.
D] But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you…..[Mt.6:6] We see Jesus throughout His earthly life practicing this aloneness with the Father He teaches us to imitate.
Solitary places for prayer, for encounters with God are found throughout Sacred Scripture from Genesis to Revelation.
Moses experienced this: Meanwhile Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law…..beyond the wilderness, he came to the mountain of God, Horeb. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him as fire flaming out of a bush. When he looked, although the bush was on fire, it was not being consumed. …………….God called out to him from the bush: Moses! Moses! He answered, “Here I am.” God said: Do not come near! Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground. [Ex. 3:1-5]
Satan attempts to misuse solitude when tempting Jesus: Then the devil took Him up to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to Him, “All these I shall give to You, if You will prostrate Yourself and worship me.” [4:8,9], Jesus will have none of it: At this, Jesus said to him, “Get away, Satan! It is written: ‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship and Him alone shall you serve.’” [v.10]
Greater than the paltry magnificence satan offered Jesus is the reality of true magnificence which Jesus reveals to us on a mountain: After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them; His face shone like the sun and His clothes became white as light. [Mt. 17:1,2]
Let us not forget the template of Christian life given us by Jesus on the Mount of the Beatitudes: St. Matthew chapters 5, 6, 7.
From the earliest days of the Church men and women have sought out places, spaces, to be alone with God, to, like Jesus, do battle with satan, thus keeping him, as one tradition says, away from the places where people dwell, the cities, to labour in prayer and manual labour as needed, as intercessors for the human family.
Those of the early centuries are known as Fathers/Mothers of the desert, from whose wisdom we get these teachings from two of them: Abba Agathon stresses that “prayer is warfare to the last breath” and Abba Lucius stressed that before seeking the solitary life, we must first have lived rightly among our brothers and sisters, otherwise we “will not be able to live rightly in solitude.”
In Medieval times Irish monks and hermits sought what they called ‘the thin place’, that is, for want of a better descriptive, the place where they would find the membrane between the cosmos and heaven, at its thinnest, for there, they figured, they would be closest to God.
Factually the true ‘thin place’ is in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.
The key is to ask the Holy Spirit to lead us into communion of love with the Father, Jesus and Himself, in silence/solitude/the secret place within us.
Vs.16,17=When it was evening, His disciples went down to the sea, embarked in a boat, and went across the sea to Capernaum. It had already grown dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them.
There is a beautiful ordinariness in these two verses.
After a hectic day, and needing to travel to their destination, how very ordinary for fishermen, to go down to the sea and travel by boat.
St. John does not indicate why they left without waiting for Jesus. Perhaps they assumed, since He had gone away, He was traveling by some other route and would meet them in Capernaum.
St. John takes note “It had already grown dark.”, and at the Last Supper once the traitor Judas has left, notes: And it was night. [13:30]
Twilight is often beautiful but never lingering, pre-dawn likewise. The latter giving way to the brilliance of sunlight, the former to the weight of darkness. Satan is all darkness, and darkness has weight, light has nothing heavy about it, hence the expression that something is light, rather than heavy.
We associate darkness with depression, light with joy, as the psalmist says: At dusk weeping comes for the night; but at dawn there is rejoicing. [Ps.30:6]
All sources of light illuminate, many like the sun, produce warmth. Indeed, we combine both when we speak of the light of a fire.
Christ is “light from light, true light from true light”, the light which darkness cannot overcome.
With Jesus absent, while the disciples were still on the sea St. John notes: The sea was stirred up because a strong wind was blowing. [v.18]
Only St. Luke, of all the Evangelists, makes no mention of an event where Jesus walks on the water. St. Mark: 6:45-53 and St. Matthew: 14:22-24, both recount such an event and in each the disciples are traveling across the water without Jesus, a severe storm comes up and each account does include Jesus coming towards the disciples.
V.19=When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they began to be afraid.
To be afraid when on the water and the wind churns the water, is a normal reaction, for huge waves can swamp even the largest of ships.
History is filled with famous stories of shipwrecks and other hazards for sailors, as for example in this verse from the Canadian singer/song writer Gordon Lightfoot in his song: The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald: Does any one know where the love of God goes ~ When the waves turn the minutes to hours?
In fact, as St. John, St. Mark, St. Matthew show the love of God, Love Himself ‘goes’ towards us when we are in peril on the sea of life: But He said to them, “It is I. Do not be afraid.” [v. 20]
St. John concludes, without comment: They wanted to take Him into the boat, but the boat immediately arrived at the shore to which they were heading. [v.21]
© 2018 Fr. Arthur Joseph