Dear Sisters and Brothers,
There is an old saying in China, that “life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” I’d say that life can be simple, but there is nothing so complicated as a human being.
One of the things that we aim for in daily living is the biblical virtue of integrity. To have integrity is like being a single piece of cloth made from threads of many colors, but it is nearly impossible to have complete integrity because we are hardly aware of some threads while we reject some of threads we know. For integrity to be a possibility, we need self-control, honesty, and repentance.
Instead of cloth, think of all the ingredients you might find in a refrigerator or a pantry closet. Not every ingredient works together to make every single meal you make, but they all belong there because they are part of the bigger task of keeping your family fed. There are some ingredients that you will never use (and they might as well be discarded), but a well-stocked kitchen can keep your family fed and healthy.
Our bodies are incredibly complicated living machines, and even a single cell of our bodies can put modern marvels of engineering to shame, but the most complicated thing about us is not about the hardware; it is about the software. Each of us has this wonderfully complicated mix of thoughts, feelings, beliefs, memories, and hidden depths that contain what is best and worst about us. It is in this personality/soul that we are both beautiful and ugly, brave and scared, wrong and right, angelic and demonic, wise and foolish.
The first disciples were just as wonderfully messy as the rest of us. They believed in things told them in the Bible, and told them by Jesus, but they were also filled with superstitions and fantasies of their childhoods. It is a very rare human being who has complete integrity about their beliefs. For instance, even though the Bible has very little to say in favor of the idea of ghosts, that is the first thing that occurs to the disciples on one particular dark night.
Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.
Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified.
Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.
Yes, when the disciples first see Jesus walking on the water, they assume that they are seeing a ghost. There is a total of one “ghost story” in the Old Testament (in 1st Samuel 28), but it is not about a spirit wandering the earth, but an old prophet temporarily brought back to be questioned by King Saul. It is proof of Saul’s failure as king of Israel. But that is where the disciple’s minds go.
Of course, they are witnessing a new kind of miracle; proof that Jesus is God, moving like the Spirit of God over the face of the waters (as in the second verse of Genesis 1). Jesus walks on the water like we can walk on a frozen lake, but our minds jump to the first explanation that occurs to us (and the disciples thought of ghosts). They are terrified, but Jesus immediately speaks to them and says “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” He does not let them worry or believe that he is a ghost. He immediately speaks to dispel their misunderstanding. Jesus is seldom slow to do anything, and the word “immediately” shows up forty times in the Gospel of Mark.
Jesus gets into the boat with the disciples and we are told that they are amazed and still confused by the miracle of the bread and fish that happened the day before. Just like the time when Jesus calmed the storm, they are confronted with the difficult fact that Jesus is always more than they expected.
When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there. As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus. They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.
The response of the people at the town of Gennesaret is simple; they came running. The common people did not understand more than the disciples did, but they knew that Jesus represented an opportunity for healing. The disciples were still asking themselves “Who is this?” about Jesus, but the crowds knew enough that the arrival of Jesus was good news.
Whether you want to say soul, mind, or personality, we are incredibly complicated. At our best, we are more quilts of fabric rather than a single piece of cloth, but we need to wrestle with questions of “who we are” and the virtue of integrity. We also need to wrestle with questions of who Jesus is. “Who is this? Even the waves and storm obey him?”
But remember this… we are like the people of that lakeside town who came running because they knew that Jesus brings healing. And even though you will never completely understand yourself or Jesus, you know enough to hear his words: “Take courage! It’s me. Don’t be afraid.”
As people, we are incredibly complicated, but God loves the complicated messes that we are. God wants us to strive for integrity, but the thing that really makes us “one” is the abounding and steadfast love of God. Like the people of the village, we know enough to come running to Jesus.
Questions to Ponder: Why does it seem easier to understand other people than it is to understand yourself? Is it more important to understand or to love?