The first part of the Gospel text for this Sunday (Mark 6:45-56) could be called ‘Jesus Calms a Storm—Take 2’. A comparison to the previous calming of the storm [at the end of chapter 4] is important.
During the first storm, Jesus was asleep in the boat. That was not as bad as being separated from Jesus. Jesus seems to set up this situation this second time in a very ‘commanding’ way. Jesus MADE his disciples get into the boat. And then, as the text describes it, Jesus TOOK LEAVE of them.
As I have made connections to the end of this gospel account, I will do so again here. Jesus gave some commands before he left. Then he took leave of his disciples, his church. And the church is in, admittedly, a difficult situation. One might compare it to being in the middle of a battle.
The disciples think that, when they see Jesus, he is just a ghost. And that same word could be used in a resurrection account. Today’s church is accused of the same thing by others, that Jesus really did not rise from the dead; something like that would be impossible!
It is nice to hear that, when the disciples—not many, but ALL—when they ALL saw him, they were terrified, and NOW there is another ‘immediately’ here. (That word does not always come at the right time!) Jesus IMMEDIATELY speaks to them. He does not wait. He certainly does care.
And, then, there is the response. After the first calming, the text says that, literally, the disciples ‘feared a great fear (Mark 4:41)’. And what is the response this time? The ESV translates it as ‘utterly astounded (v. 51)’, but it is basically the same word as in Mark 3:21, when Jesus is described as ‘out of his mind’.
At the end of the first calming, the disciples are asking, ‘Who is this?’ At the second calming, they should have been able to answer that question.
Perhaps the reason that this gospel account was not too popular in the early church is because of its negative view toward the followers of Jesus. (I believe I read recently that more papyri have been found about the Gospel according to Thomas than the Gospel according to Mark!) All the gospel accounts focus on something much more important, but people can get easily distracted.
That the disciples do not answer the ‘who’ question this second time makes the following editorial comment completely appropriate. After the disciples were basically described as ‘crazy’, the text says it was because their hearts were hardened, and it was also because they did not understand about the multiplication of the loaves (v. 52).
Jesus is on an important journey. The disciples do not get it, and that is okay. He even meant to pass by them on the water (v. 48). That, also, would have been okay—only they see him, and he does not want to leave them in doubt (or, especially, fear). Jesus is on a critical journey, and he sees THAT journey all the way through.