Jesus: Light in the Darkness
Homily for Saturday of the Second Week in Easter
The story that we hear today from the Gospel of St. John is closely linked to the rest of chapter six. Yesterday, we heard the story of the feeding of the multitude, a story of the miraculous multiplication of the five barley loaves and the two fish. That story also illustrates the limitations that the apostles had placed on Jesus, particularly the interaction between Philip and Andrew and Jesus. The end of that story indicates that Jesus was somewhat fearful of the reaction of the people who seemed to be ready to carry him off and proclaim him the king. For this reason, Jesus returns to solitude and prayer to forestall any such action.
The story of the feeding of the multitude is followed closely by the story of Jesus walking on the water. While the Gospels of St. Matthew, St. Mark, and St. Luke all contain the story, they conclude with Jesus calming the storm and getting into the boat with the apostles. St. John’s Gospel has a completely different focus in that it says nothing about Jesus calming the storm. Instead, even before the apostles can help Jesus into the boat, they arrive at their destination, Capernaum.
St. John wishes to show Jesus’ encounters with both groups and their reactions to him. While the crowd’s reaction is one of wishing to make Jesus of their king, the disciples in the boat exhibit fear. Their fear is not about the storm as it had been in the synoptic Gospels. Rather, they are fearful because they think they are being approached by a ghost. This makes the story one of a divine manifestation, a theophany or Christophany – an appearance or manifestation of Christ. Even the words about the storm are reminiscent of the theophanic signs at Horeb and on the day of Pentecost. In the context of the the Fourth Gospel, which is all about the coming of the eternal Word as light, one must also pay attention to the fact that St. John mentions that this took place in darkness. Jesus also uses those fateful words in identifying himself; namely, “It is I,” and adds on, “Do not be afraid.”
Which brings us to the conclusion of the story. Before the apostles can even take Jesus into the boat, they arrive at their destination. This detail adds an eschatological tenor to the episode. The apostles have arrived at their destination; because they are in the company of Jesus, this could be considered John’s way of saying that being in the company of Jesus is the beginning of their eternal life.
As we contemplate the meaning of this Gospel story, we too should not focus our attention on the storm but rather on the destination to which we are moving. We are all striving for heaven, for that eternal life which is promised to those who participate in the Bread of Life, who eat his body and drink his blood. It is for this reason that this story is included in chapter six which contains the discourse of Jesus on the Bread of Life.