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Signposts: Daily Devotions

Written by Susan Hanson

Monday, November 23

But when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
—Mark 6:49-50

If I were a compulsive person, I would know that the word fear is mentioned 98 times in the New Testament (RSV) and the word afraid, 41. Mary was afraid, Zechari'ah was afraid, Herod was afraid, the chief priests and Pharisees were afraid, the women at the tomb were afraid. But more than anyone, the disciples were afraid.

This makes perfect sense. After all, they were the ones who had done all the things that normal, “stable” people don’t do. They had given up their jobs, separated from their families, broken with their religious community, and urged sedition—all to follow a charismatic itinerant preacher. 

In sociological terms, we might say that they were a cadre of working class individuals whose efforts to achieve destratification and other counter-cultural goals resulted in further marginalization and conflict. They were right to be afraid.

What is ironic, however, is that in many cases—I haven’t done a count—their fear revealed itself when they were with Jesus, not apart from him. Typically, we are most anxious when we are separated from the person who gives us direction and support, but not the disciples.

They were afraid while he slept through a raging storm or, according to another account, walked toward them over the water. Peter, James, and John were afraid when they joined him on top of the mountain to pray. Peter was afraid when Jesus invited him to put down his nets and follow him.

What was it that they feared? Whenever Jesus was around, something unexplainable always seemed to happen. Sick people got well, blind people received their sight, dead people came back to life. Add incidents of walking on water and clothes glowing like the sun, and you have good reason to be nervous.

It would be easy—and natural—to interpret these events as magic, as tricks intended to manipulate and stir the crowds. My preference, though, is to think of them as part of Jesus’ message: that it is possible for everything we know and understand to be turned on its head, to be given new life, to be radically changed; that it’s possible—and enriching—to live with mystery and ambiguity; that it's possible, even necessary, to learn to live with our fears.

O God, open my eyes to see the needs of my neighbors, the ones I know and the ones who move quickly in and out of my life. 

These Signposts were originally published on in 2005.