The walking on the sea.
Matth. 14, 24-33.
After the feeding Jesus wanted to be rid of the people as quickly as possible – it seems that he feared consequences from his mighty miracle and from the excitability of the crowd, which were contrary to his spiritual plan, so it seems again that the evangelical view cannot turn away quickly enough from the miracle which it has just seen come into being – the disciples must therefore immediately go ahead to the other shore, while he dismisses the people. Afterwards, when he was free, Jesus withdrew from the mountain to pray. “When evening came, he was there alone,” says Matthew. But the ship, when it was in the midst of the lake, was taken by a storm, and in the fourth watch of the night the Lord went away to the disciples across the lake. But how? The disciples had departed by day, and late in the fourth watch of the night, early in the morning, Jesus went to them while they were struggling with the storm in the middle of the lake? The lake was two hours wide and the disciples did not reach the middle of it until the morning of the following day, after they had left yesterday by day? What an absurdity!
Nor does this absurdity cease to be disproportionate and impossible when Mark reports: “In the evening the ship was in the middle of the lake and Jesus alone on the land. Then he saw them struggling with the wind, for the wind was against them, and about the fourth watch of the night he came to them walking on the lake” (C. 6, 47. 48.). From evening till morning the ship is in the middle of the lake! The ideal view, however, did not notice this enormous difficulty, because it was important for it to see the disciples in distress during the night as long as possible – the night and the distress belonged together – so that only when the morning dawned – the morning and the deliverance from the distress belonged together again – the Lord would bring them help. The incident belongs to the ideal view!
There is only one thing that Mark has narrated and motivated better – Matthew thus confused and carelessly copied his information – when he tells us that Jesus saw the disciples fighting with the storm, when he even immediately in the beginning of his narration: “In the evening the ship was in the middle of the lake and Jesus alone on the land” lets us see both, the disciples and Jesus, puts both in relation to each other, at least lets us guess how Jesus could see the disciples fighting with the storm. Matthew no longer grasps the meaning of this grouping and has torn the provision that Jesus was alone in the evening out of its context and isolated it.
Although Mark, when he says that Jesus saw the disciples in danger, wants to imply that he wanted to come to their aid when he immediately came to them on the waves of the lake, he nevertheless says that Jesus wanted to pass by them (C. 6, 48-50.) and only the circumstance that the disciples cried out loudly at the sight of him, because they thought they saw a ghost, induced him to keep still and to speak courage to them. This contradiction is to be explained purely and solely from the excess of pragmatism, which this time, as it were, overshoots itself, and from the motive that Mark wants to gain space for the description of the tremendous terror of the disciples and to let this same terror appear in all its greatness by presenting it as the cause that moved Jesus to stand still. Thus, at least at this moment, the moments of the narrative were vividly set in motion and related, admittedly at the expense of the presupposition which was implied in the beginning of the account. Matthew did not exclude the remark that Jesus wanted to pass by, because he no longer felt the need to set the situation in motion: he simply places the individual moments next to each other.
According to the account of Mark, Jesus, after speaking courage to the disciples, got into the ship and to the great astonishment of the disciples, the storm died down immediately. Matthew, on the other hand, tells us how Peter called out to his Master, who was still standing out on the water: “Lord, if you are (the one) – for Jesus said: do not be afraid, it is I! – Then he gets out of the boat at Jesus’ command and really walks on the water to get to Jesus, but is terrified when he sees the strong wind. He began to sink – as if it took a long time! – and cried out: Lord, save me: then Jesus took hold of him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? Now they enter into the ship, and the wind ceaseth: and they that were in the ship fell down before him, saying, Thou art in truth the Son of God.
Matthew, the last of the synoptics, first reports this episode, which both falls apart in itself and is excluded from the report – of course! for it is the report of Mark – or, if it wants to assert its place, it is crushed. Wilke has already noticed how even Matthew has left the original account so perfectly unchanged that he only allows the storm to subside when Jesus entered the ship*). “Peter must have known beforehand that the wind was strong, before he attempted the perilous course,” and the same thing which terrified him when he had the command of his Master to himself, should have prevented him even more from conceiving the thought of this venture. Furthermore, in the astonished exclamation of the people in the ship, no consideration is given to Peter’s unsuccessful attempt. Moreover, it may be noted that only in the original account, when it says: “when he joined them in the ship, the storm died down”, does the view that Jesus came to the disciples as Saviour and that his presence calmed the agitation of the elements find expression and the causal narration, which is the point here, emerges as such, while the tendency of the account is paralysed when Matthew says: when they (namely Jesus and Peter) entered the ship, the storm died down. The sudden occurrence of unity: they fell down before “him”, is an oversight in Matthew’s account and can only be explained by the fact that the evangelist turns back to the writing of Mark and reworks a remark which relates Jesus and the disciples. Matthew, after speaking of Peter and Jesus in the majority, would have let the latter stand out again as the subject if he had written independently from his own head. Finally, this episode proves to be an interpolation in that it leaves the interest of the original account, namely the tension with which we received the news of the calming of the storm, far too long in abeyance, unsatisfied and tears the two sides of the contrast – the danger and the rescue from distress – apart.
*) p. 637
Matthew created the episode: the situation was given to him by the account of Mark, which he is transcribing, the story of Peter’s denial served him as a model, and the justification in general gave him the general premise that Peter was the one among the disciples whose all too lively outpouring of faith was to be feared as not standing firm in the moment of danger *).
*) Luke 22, 32.
That at the end of his account Matthew has the people in the boat fall down before Jesus and exclaim, “Truly you are the Son of God!”, and that he finally wants these people to appear as strangers, should no longer surprise us about him. Mark says: the disciples were amazed beyond measure.
The best appreciation of this account of Jesus’ walk on the sea was given by Luke: – he omitted it because he thought he had already told his readers everything essential in the account of the calming of the storm. Very true, for the idea is the same in both accounts, that the Lord comes to the aid of His own when they struggle with the storms of this life. Mark **), however, formed this view precisely here, at this point, because he thought it appropriate that the Lord, if he had provided miraculous food like Moses, had immediately become equal, even superior, to the lawgiver in that he had made the sea feel his superiority in an even more miraculous ***) way.
**) Not the “evangelical proclamation” as Weisse says (1, SSV.).
***) Cf. Job 9, 8. LXX.