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The Passerby

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. Mark 6.47-51.

It is a long time now since I first discovered what I think of as “echoes” in Scripture. Usually they are echoes in the New Testament of something that was first “sounded” in the Old. And that “sounding” in the Old is, I often find, the clue to the understanding and full appreciation of what I am hearing in the New.

This morning, I heard just such an echo as I read this short passage in Mark 6. Why, I was asking myself, was Jesus intending to “pass by” the disciples on the lake? Was it just that he was in a hurry to get to Capernaum and didn’t want to waste his time taking the boat – the normal means of getting there? Possibly – though Jesus was never in a hurry at any other time in the Gospels, so why now? But then it dawned on me. He wasn’t in a hurry at all. His intention to “pass by” was nothing at all to do with getting to Capernaum ahead of the disciples. No. He was deliberately providing an echo to something way back in the past. Something that had happened on Mount Sinai almost 1500 years earlier …

Then Moses said [to the Lord], “Now show me your glory.” And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” Then the Lord said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Exodus 33.18-22.

To pass by – parerchomai – is the same Greek verb that is used in both Mark 6 and the Greek version of Exodus 33. And it’s there again in the following chapter of Exodus …

Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness …” Exodus 34.5-6.

The passing by of God in Exodus signals an epiphany – a revelation of something about God that the one to whom the epiphany is given did not know before. There, in Exodus, it was a wonderful and startling revelation of the loving, merciful, compassionate nature of the true God (in contrast to foreign gods who ate babies for breakfast); and here in Mark it was a revelation of the fact that this Jesus whom the disciples ate with, walked with, talked with, joked with was no lesser being than that same God: the Lord of Sea and Sky himself – God incarnate.

What a lovely “sound” and “echo”! I thought. But then it dawned on me that the echoes in the New Testament didn’t end there: there were more. And as I thought about them, I realised that every echo was telling me the same thing: that whenever Jesus “passes by” in the Gospels it is a prelude to an epiphany – to someone’s eyes being opened …

As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” “Lord, I want to see,” he replied. Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God. Luke 18:35-43.

“Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” Yes, indeed! Although Jesus dwells within us by his Spirit, there is a sense in which he is always passing by … always waiting for us to recognise him and call out to him in our need. And when we do, we can, it seems, expect an epiphany; for his passing by is always the prelude to a manifestation of his glory …

As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. Luke 24.28-31.

Although Cleopas and his companion walked the Emmaus road with Jesus and talked with him – even had a Bible study with him! – they were blind to the glory that was his. They were blind to his risen reality. He was with them and they were with him, but they couldn’t see him. So when they reach the village, he begins to pass by. (The verb translated here as “going further” – poreuomai – can equally well be translated here as “passing by”.) But they stop him – and then there is the revelation, the epiphany. They see his glory.

I wonder: as I sit here today looking at the Scriptures, am I a bit like Cleopas and his companion. Not fully aware of the One who is with me? Not fully aware of the Passerby? Not fully aware of the One who, if I call out to him, will stop, come in, stay with me, and show me more of his glory?

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2 comments on “The Passerby

  1. Lee says:

    Very nice insight and inspiration. Thank you!

    Like

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