The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on John 6:16-21

Posted by Dim Bulb on April 2, 2016

16 And when evening was come, his disciples went down to the sea.
17 And when they had gone up into a ship, they went over the sea to Capharnaum. And it was now dark: and Jesus was not come unto them.

They went over the sea to Capharnaum,” that is, they directed their course to Capharnaum. They intended going there and making for it. In St. Mark (6:45) it is said, they were ordered by Him, while dismissing the crowds, to make for Bethsaida, which is near Capharnaum. Possibly, the tempest drove them past Bethsaida; and they, then, made for Capharnaum.

For verses 18-21 Fr. MacEvilly sends us to his commentary on Matthew 14:24-33 which I’ve reproduced below.

18 And the sea arose, by reason of a great wind that blew.

Notes on Mt 14:24~The darkness and adverse winds, together with the absence of our Lord, added to their danger, and heightened their terrors. This is more clearly expressed (John 6:17). This storm was purposely caused by our Divine Redeemer, in order to try their faith and confidence in Him during His absence.

19 When they had rowed therefore about five and twenty or thirty furlongs, they see Jesus walking upon the sea and drawing nigh to the ship. And they were afraid.
20 But he saith to them: It is I. Be not afraid.

Notes on Mt 14:25-27~About five and twenty or thirty furlongs.” Roughly about 3 to 4 miles. According to Matthew the time wasin the fourth watch of the night,” or, about three o’clock in the morning, “He came to them,” &c. Formerly, the Jews divided the night, in their military arrangements, into three watches, of four hours each. The first was called the beginning of the watch (Jeremias Lament 2:19). The second, the middle watch, at which those who were on guard, in the first watch, were relieved and succeeded by others (Judg. 7:19). The third, and last watch, was called, the morning watch (Exod. 14:24). St. Luke refers to this (12:38). But the Romans divided the nights into four watches, dividing the night, from sunset to sunrise, according to the season of the year, into four equal parts. The hours were, of course, according to this arrangement, shorter, or longer, according to the season of the year. At the Equinoxes, the first watch was from six in the evening till nine; the second from nine till twelve; the third from twelve till three in the morning, and the fourth from three till six, or sunrise. In the time of our Lord, the Jews had adopted this Roman division of time into four watches. The Apostles were tossed about by the tempest during the entire night. By walking on the sea, our Redeemer showed, in a remarkable way, His Divine power. It is specially said of God, in the Book of Job (9:8–10), “Who alone spreadeth out the heavens and walketh upon the waves of the sea,” making this one of His Divine qualities or attributes. “Walking upon the sea.” “Upon.” (επι), is used with a verb of motion.

Unable, owing to the darkness, to distinguish the object they saw walking on the waters, and to recognise our Divine Lord, the Apostles were affrighted, taking Him for a spectre, or, as Matthew has it, anapparition.” It was the common belief among the Jews, which was also in accordance with Scripture, and asserted by the Pharisees, who maintained the existence of spirits, that these spirits sometimes appeared, clad in human form. Night was commonly believed to be the time for evil spirits, known to injure man, to make their appearance. Hence, the affright of the Apostles, who imagined the apparition, which now presented itself, to be ominous of coming shipwreck.

And they cried out for fear.” This loud and confused cry indicated their excessive fear. John makes no mention of this.

When their fears reached the highest pitch, our Redeemer, at once, allays them, saying: “Be of good heart,” (in John, “do not be afraid”) in a tone of voice, which at once assured them, and convinced them of His Divine presence. “Be of good heart,” give up all fears. “It is I,” from whom you have nothing to fear, who heretofore rescued you from so many perils. These words, “It is I,” are allusive to the description the Almighty gave of Himself, in addressing Moses, “SUM QUI SUM.” (Exod. 3)

21 They were willing therefore to take him into the ship. And presently the ship was at the land to which they were going.

Notes on Mt 14:32-33~“And when they were come up into the boat,” &c. St. John (6:21), says, “they were willing, therefore, to take him into the ship, and presently the ship was at the land, to which they were going.”

This is not opposed to the account given here by St. Matthew. The Apostles were desirous of taking our Redeemer into the ship, as St. John states, and our Redeemer, as St. Matthew tells us here, gratifying their desires, did actually enter the ship.

They were willing to take Him.” (John 6:21), εθελον λαβειν, is an idiomatic phrase for, εθελοντως ελαβον—“they willingly received Him.” (Bloomfield). A twofold miracle followed, the storm at once abated, and the ship at once reached land. So there were five miracles altogether connected with it—1. Our Lord’s walking on the sea. 2. Peter’s walking on it by His aid. 3. When sinking, Peter is raised 4. The sudden ceasing of the storm. 5. The arrival at land, at once.

The sailors who owned the boat, and the Apostles, who were in the boat with them “adored Him;προσεκυνησαν, means, prostrate adoration (see 2:11). “Indeed, Thou art the Son of God,” that is, the promised Messiah, not merely the adopted, but the natural Son of God, such as He proclaimed Himself, and the Pharisees denied Him to be (John 5:18–33; 19:7). Others say, there is question of the Son of God by excellence, and not by nature; because, according to them, these ignorant sailors, who, with the Apostles, adored our Lord, did not know the mystery of the Trinity, which others answer by saying, they received this knowledge in the boat by revelation.

St. Mark (6:51), says, that seeing the miracle of His walking on the sea, the cessation of the wind, &c., the Apostles were more and more astonished, and he assigns as a reason (v. 52), “for, they understood not concerning the loaves; for, their heart was blinded.”

They were so stupified by the storm and the danger they were in, that they did not attend to the greater miracle of the multiplication of the loaves which our Lord had performed; otherwise, they would not have been astonished at the greatness of the present miracle. Our Divine Lord permitted them to be sorely tried after He had performed the preceding miracle of the multiplication of the loaves, in order that they would the more readily acknowledge Him in the evils which befell them. For, we are generally more affected by the sense of misfortune, than we are by the enjoyment of blessings—and, indeed, as it is most likely, that among these, “that were in the boat,” were included the Apostles, we can hardly suppose, that they, at least, who having lived so long with our Redeemer, heard His discourses, witnessed His many miracles, and must, therefore, by this time, have believed Him to be the natural Son of God, could have uttered the words, “Indeed, Thou art the Son of God,” in any other sense, save that they professed their faith in His Divinity, which the present miracle tended to strengthen. “And presently the ship was at the land to which they were going” (John 6:21).


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