Last Sunday in Mark we read where Jesus fed the 5000 and then walked on the water to get to the other side of the lake. This week in John, for a change, we read how Jesus feeds the 5000 and then walks on water to get to the other side of the lake. Huh?
Do you think the pizza guy was late delivering lunch to the lectionary committee? Maybe food was all they could think about, and water I suppose.
Realistically, maybe it was to be able to show a contrast when the same stories are penned by two different authors working from two different memories of the events.
One difference up front is easy. In Mark, he is concerned to point out that Jesus taught the crowd. It was the teaching that mattered to Mark, and perhaps ultimately mattered. Jesus said the people were like sheep without a shepherd, and he had compassion on them. That is why he taught and tried to get through the various mental blocks set against the truth.
I don’t believe John would argue with the importance of what Jesus said (taught), but John is more inclined here to be blunt about the motives of the people. They came because of the signs, the wonders, the miracles and specifically the healings Jesus performed. They did not come for the teaching.
Now, in Mark the disciples want Jesus to send the people away. He backs them into a corner until they come up with five loaves and two fish. Here, the disciples offer all they have and Jesus shows that it is more than enough. They pick up more leftovers than they started with.
John makes it clear that Jesus knew all along what he was going to do. What “They said” in Mark, John tells us was actually said by Philip: “It would take more than half a year’s wages.” I imagine Jesus smiled and may have thought something like, what is impossible for people is possible with God. Can you picture Jesus smiling?
So the few loaves and fishes do the work, and in Mark, Jesus immediately sends the disciples to the sea ahead of him and goes to a private place to pray. But John adds a note: that the people want to make him King by force. Jesus essentially escapes that fate, but now we can see how the Romans got that idea. By that time there were people who saw, and no doubt talked about Jesus as the rightful king. The sad thing was it was not because they understood but because he fed them. To this day there are far too many people who will make anyone king who feeds them. But Jesus did not come to be king like that. He came to die and be raised on the third day. So he escaped.
So finally in both Mark and John, the disciples are rowing, struggling against the wind. Sort of like life. And when they see Jesus walking on the water, they are terrified. But notice the words of Jesus reported in both versions of the story. “Do not be afraid.” Those are powerful words.
Now, again John adds a note Mark does not, that the disciples were willing to let Jesus into the boat. In a sense they invited him in. John’s gospel is filled with the notion that we must invite him in – we must be willing. Mark was not concerned with that early in his telling. He moved everything toward the climax of Holy Week and the REASON we need to invite him in, no doubt believing that people needed to understand the reason before inviting Jesus would make sense. Mark is the one who points out that even this far into the story, the hearts of the disciples are still hardened. Even the disciples don’t understand the REASON.
In any case, Jesus gets in the boat, the contrary wind dies down, and they arrive at their destination. That much is clear.
So what we have here is the same story as last week, but told by two different authors. I have likened it to four people who see the same automobile accident. The basic “What happened” will be the same, but each person will see it and describe it from a different perspective. No two stories will be exactly alike, and that is very human. So it is with the gospels. And so it should be.
The events, feeding 5000 and walking on the water are exactly the same in John and Mark, but the authors are looking at it and understanding it (remembering it) and describing it from two separate points of view. This, also, is how it should be.