Have you ever read and compared Mark 6:47-52 and Matthew 14:22-33? They both are about the story of Jesus walking on water and stilling the storm. As you likely remember, the disciples are in a boat having just fed a bunch of people. They are at sea and a storm comes up. They become very afraid, panicking. One of them sees Jesus walking on the water towards them and they watch as Jesus commands the storm to stop.
So far each of these stories from each of these books have it the same, until the end. At the end Mark it states the disciples were surprised because they didn’t understand how the loaves could be enough for the 5,000? Really? That is their question? They just saw Jesus walking on water and calming a storm and they are back on the land; thinking of the loaves?
Alas, Matthew’s version follows and shares a different ending. His ending indicates all on board the boat were immediately awestruck exclaiming, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Finally, to me, it all makes sense. If I were on that boat, afraid of the storm and saw Jesus walking on water and calming the storm; I wouldn’t still be on shore. My thoughts wouldn’t be back there thinking of the few loaves feeding so many.
Matthew’s ending makes more sense. In Matthew’s version I am in the boat with the others, watching and seeing Jesus walking and calming the storm. I am astounded. I am wildly impressed – “This must be the Son of God.”
So, why the difference?
We know Matthew was written after Mark and used Mark as one of his sources in his writing. Was he unhappy too with the ending? Did he, like I having read Mark’s version, find their surprise of the loaves being insufficient and seemingly out-of-context to what just happened? Maybe. Or, did Matthew understand something different than Mark about who Jesus was?
When we read the Gospels, moving from Mark to Matthew, Luke and then to John, we can see there is an evolving understanding of Jesus and who he was. Where Mark is shortest and to the point, each of the others add, emphasize different aspects of Jesus and Jesus’ ministry. It is as if they were interacting with the Gospel of Mark, living in their faith and determining then who Jesus really was. They were interpreting the ministry and life of Jesus for what it means for them, in their lives, at the time of their writing.
We must also remember Matthew’s story is not to the detriment of Mark’s; one does not replace the other. Besides, they both include the feeding of the hungry. Where Mark’s story returns to the astonishment of the loaves; Matthew’s comprehensively includes the loaves with the walking and calming. Therefore, Matthew’s build forward from the loaves, to the walking and calming and then exclaims! These books build upon one another, they do not replace..
With this in mind, I can totally see it. I just came from feeding a bunch of people with very little means. I then climb in a boat set out for sea and big storm rises. All of a sudden, out on the water, I see Jesus approaching, calming the sea. With everything, all of it, piling up into my senses I am overwhelmed – feeding,hearing, feeling, seeing, walking, calming – it is all astonishing!
To read the bible from this perspective then frees us, I believe, to see ourselves in its pages. When we understand the writers wrote from within their own discovery and interpretive lens of who God and Jesus was and is; we too are set free to let Spirit reveal who God and Jesus is for us today. Where they remembered Jesus for who Mark declared him to be they permitted their worked out and lived faith to see more in the story; furthering and declaring (although perhaps inadvertently) the truth and power of the Spirit to continually inform and shape their understanding.
To this end then, it is not our belief alone without action that brings forth our faithful lives but our active engagement. Matthew shows us this. Therefore, we not only read the text for what it has to say of what happened then but for what it has to say into what is happening today. If we open the text to its living and life-giving capacities we open our lives to a life of hope.
Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known. – Jeremiah 33:3