“Take courage” is the word that stands out in today’s gospel because in the Greek text it’s actually one word: tharseó. This word occurs only seven times in the New Testament. Twice it happens before a miraculous healing, first with a paralytic in Matthew 9:2 and next in Matthew 9:22 with a woman suffering from a hemorrhage for twelve years. Jesus tells them both: “Take courage” (tharseó). His disciples repeat this phrase when they bring the blind Bartimaeus to Jesus for healing. “Take courage [tharseó],” they tell him; “Jesus is calling you” (Mark 10:49).
Today’s gospel portrays Jesus telling his disciples to “take courage” (tharseó) after he miraculously walks across the sea to them. This scene is retold in Matthew 14. In both gospel passages, Jesus couples this encouragement with the reminder, “Do not be afraid.” This coupling is also implied in John 16:33, the very last time this word appears in the gospels, in the very last sentence of Jesus’s very last teaching right before his high priestly prayer and his passion and death. He tells his disciples to “take courage” (tharseó) because he has defeated the world.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI also focuses on “taking courage” in Christ and to “fear nothing” through faith in his explanation of today’s gospel: “‘Take heart, it is I; have no fear’, Jesus exclaimed to the disciples who, with the wind against them, were bent over their oars on the Sea of Gennesaret (Mk 6: 50). Although sometimes the present blows a stormy wind in our faces and we are filled with great fear for the future, we must have confidence; we must not be afraid because God comes to our aid. If we understand the future in this way, we shall be able to confront its challenge. We shall then be able to shape the future and to make the most of the opportunities it offers us” (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Message on the occasion of the 97th German Katholikentag, 2008).
When Jesus tells his disciples to “take courage,” it is a message for all of us, when the storms of life seem overwhelming. That is the time to be not afraid. That is the time to invite him into the boat of our souls and wait until he calms every tempest.