Jesus multiplied five loaves of bread and two fish for feeding a vast crowd of listeners, which included five thousand men. 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 and went up to 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. While the boat ran out of control and at the verge of sinking, Jesus approached them, walking on the water in glowing light amid thick darkness. 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 Jesus preached and could not find him there. Along with the people who came from Tiberius in 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 the 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 was carrying 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. Considering Jesus as the Messiah, they attempted to make him their king. Declining that offer, Jesus withdrew to the nearby mountain 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 toward 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 loves and fish feeding a large crowd of listeners, including five thousand men. So, they would agree with the crowd for Jesus to become the king of the Jews for their benefit as well. Jesus wanted to avoid all people to be on the mountain to be in prayer. When Jesus compelled the disciples to go by themselves across the sea, they were reluctant to leave Jesus 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.
Since Jesus preached and multiplied the loves 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 centered 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 from 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 toward 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 traveling 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 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 veritable sea but a lake. It is also known as “The Sea of Kinneret” (Numb. 34:11, Deut. 3:17, Joshua 11:2), “The Lake of Gennesaret” (Luke 5:1), and “The Lake of Tiberius” (John 6:1). This pear-shaped lake is only thirteen miles (21 km) long from north to south and eight miles (13 km) at the widest part, from east to west. The circumference of the lake is only thirty-three miles (53 km), and its maximum depth is 141 feet (43 meters). 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 gone down as centuries went by.
Violent storm is possible in 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 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 blew down into the sea, causing 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 kilometers
The Sea of Galilee was eight miles (13 km) at the widest part from east to west. Since the boat was about five to six kilometers away from the shore means they were in the middle of the sea. The rowing was uncontrollable because of the heavy storm against them. So, they were in a helpless and dangerous stage.
They saw Jesus walking on the sea
Though the disciples had seen Jesus performing miracles, they never had witnessed him walking on 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 help him, they could not expect Jesus to cross the sea. They might have thought of going back the next day to bring Jesus back to Capernaum.
he was drawing near to the boat.
When the disciples saw the strange scene of a person walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost. The ghost-like appearance means, Jesus appeared to them as he did at the time of transfiguration on the mountain in the presence of Peter, James, and John. “His face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light” (Mt 17:2). Such a scene amid the thick darkness of that night was terrifying. Their fear increased as the “ghost” moved towards them.
They were frightened
The disciples on the boat were frightened because:
Though Jesus was approaching the disciples by walking on the water with his divine power, and his intention was to save them, the disciples misunderstood him as 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, showing 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 on 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.” (Luke 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 misunderstood him as 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 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 a divine intervention.
“It is I”
When Jesus told of 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 savior 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 was making himself equal to God. So, the disciples got a better understanding of Jesus from his words and his walking on the water.
(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 made him walk on the water like Jesus did. While Peter walked toward 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 that he was not 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, like Matthew and Mark document 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 were 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 favor of them taking their boat to their destination without any 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 without and 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 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 about the divinity of Jesus than the multiplication of the bread he had done 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 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 based on this narrative?
Though the people who benefited from Jesus’ multiplication of the bread and 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. Instead, Jesus wanted them to separate from the crowd by sending them across the lake. Though the disciples wished to stay with Jesus, or they wanted him to sail with him, 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, 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 to 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 each time. The church throughout the 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. The parents keep watch of their children even when they are at a distance from them and intervene to save them in case of any crisis. Similarly, Jesus is monitoring the church and its members from heaven and intervenes in case of crisis at his own time. The conversion of Emperor Constantine in 312 A.D., leading to the end of persecution and the beginning of 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 the water, is like his second coming on the clouds to separate the faithful from the 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. Similarly, 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 the 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, the 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 near the eastern shore of the lake, where Jesus had preached 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 were sure that Jesus might be there, and they could see him again. They 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 A.D. He made it as his capital of Galilee and named in honor 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 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 was also known as 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 came again in the boats looking for Jesus. Their goal was to see him do more miracles and listen again 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 on the previous evening. He did that after his homage to the Father and offering thanks to Him. The Evangelist reminds Jesus was not alone but did the miracle by his divine power and with the Father’s consensus.
(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 to the mountain to pray. Hence, they expected Jesus there. However, they could not find him.
they got into the boats
Jesus was not at the location he 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’s center of Galilean ministry was in Capernaum. So, they went there. The easiest means was by boat crossing the Sea of Galilee. To their luck, the listeners of Jesus on the previous day from Tiberias came by their boats with the same intention of seeing Jesus.
Not all the five thousand men were in the crowd of the next morning. They got in the boats of the people from Tiberias and in the boats on the east coast for their sail to Capernaum. That shows their enthusiasm to see Jesus and to get favors 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 their arrival there. The people on the east coast and in Tiberias assumed 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 spent the night on a mountain across the lake. Jesus commented to them about their mistaken 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 the food that endures for 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 establishment of the Holy Eucharist that he did during the Last Supper.