Matthew 14:22–33 (NRSV)
Jesus Walks on the Water
(Mk 6:45–52; Jn 6:15–21)
22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25 And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
28 Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
This has been a whirl wind of a week for many of us. For some the primary elections were adding stress to our lives, not just for those running but the issues that were included for many to consider. Then we hear the stories around the world: War in Israel, War in Ukraine, War in Iraq, Iraq extremist bringing a new reality of persecution into the minds of Christians, and our nation flirting with the concept of entering into a new Cold War with Russia. It is about enough to make anyone question the point of everything, because if you were to just watch the news you would think the world was on the verge of collapse. But we forget that that is the point of the news, they want to break the latest big news story and the one to be the first to break the news of the collapse of the world is the one that wins.
Truth in most cases has taken a back seat to perception. Ideas are planted in our minds and then those ideas are being constantly fed by endless cycles of ideas working us all into a frenzy. To be honest it has been extremely difficult for me personally to not get caught up in the frenzy of the day. I read stories on the internet that break my heart for the people of Iraq as their nation and communities that have been in existence for a millennia have been destroyed by people claiming to be the hand of God. It works me into a near state of rage when I hear what has been done to the women and children. The inhumanity of it all actually puzzles me. What could cause a person to treat another as if they were garbage? Then I had to step back and consider myself and my own attitudes for a bit. What is my response? Am I calling out for vengeance? And could I participate in something nudging the line of inhumanity?
I bring this up because I feel that often we get caught up in this whirlwind of media and we often forget that there are real humans on the other side of the controversy. Humans that are caught in their own whirlwinds of trouble that are not the same as ours but just as real to them.
Life is filled with troubles and whirlwinds. That is why this scene in the gospel message is so important. Just after the greatest miracle the disciples had ever seen Jesus send them out on the boat, and a storm begins to rage around them. I want us to first think of this scene as we reflect of this passage. The waves are crashing over the edge of the boat, the disciple are bailing water out as fast as it comes in with the constant threat of everything ending at any moment as they are trying to pull the oars through the water to bring them to safety. Their very lives are at risk and where is Jesus?
Can you identify with these disciples? Their promised messiah was supposed to come in and take away all their troubles. Reestablish them as a great nation, a nation flowing with milk and honey so they would not have to struggle and toil. They had eaten manna from heaven coming from the hands of their teacher and friend. Yet the waves are crashing in, they are soaked and their muscles and bones ache from the wind chilled air. They looked into the face of their salvation and now they stare into the face of death.
How often do we feel like we are on that boat? Feeling like everything we have worked and hoped for is on the brink of destruction and we ask ourselves, where is Jesus? Where is Jesus, when the world all around us seems to be falling apart? Where is Jesus when children are being killed and displaced by a war they know nothing about? Where is Jesus when nations are being ripped apart by political ideology and the people they claim to protect are being left to fend for themselves? Where is Jesus when your health dwindles and your finances are shot? The waves of life crash all around us threatening to engulf us as we struggle to make it to shore.
Where is Jesus? I imagine the disciples crying this very question out to the howling winds. Where is Jesus? The very question so many today scream out in desperation. Jesus sent these guys out into that storm, while he dismissed the crowd and went to the mountaintop to pray. Jesus sent them out onto the sea to face the storm, He sent them out there to struggle. I want you to think about that for just a moment, Jesus did not remove them from the struggle.
Now let us go to the mountain with Jesus. Jesus had just performed a miracle that would get people talking. Five thousand families just ate a meal that began as a ration for a single individual, those that were in the crowd had an idea of the future beginning to form in their minds. Their troubles were going to be over they might think. God was going to provide for their every need. Imagine the excitement, imagine the struggle Jesus must have had dismissing that crowd. Also remember that Jesus is still mourning the loss of his cousin, which is why he was in this particular place to begin with. Jesus was emotionally and spiritually drained, but He knew what he needed.
There are always going to be struggles threatening our well-being, how we respond to those struggles are what makes the biggest difference. Jesus had a rhythm to his life that we can recognize as we walk with him and his disciple through the pages of scripture. Jesus made it his custom to worship in the synagogue, he took time to praise and encourage the faithful in the worship of the one God. He also would withdraw to an isolated place to pray, spending time in a deeper more intimate setting where He could commune with His Father. He would then go out into the community to minister to the needs of the people, healing the sick and encouraging the marginalized of the culture that they were not forgotten by God. This rhythm of life, this life of discipline that Jesus shares with us is one that will give us strengthen in the storms of life, it will give us direction, and allows God to walk with us.
The disciples are struggling in the midst of the storm and where is Jesus? Jesus is participating in a holy lifestyle of constant communion with God. The disciples are struggling through in their own strength while Jesus calmly walks in confidence with God. The disciples are living in fear and self-preservation where Jesus is focused on the rhythm of life. Loving God, Embracing the Holy Spirit, and loving and ministering to others.
The disciples are rowing for their lives as the wind is tossing them around the sea and Jesus calmly walks out to them. They scream in fear that death himself was walking to take them to their final resting place. Jesus calls out to them to, “take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Easy, right, just not be afraid as the waves are crashing all around you and someone is walking on water. This is an interesting image though. Waves crashing and Jesus calmly walking through the turmoil. Peter cries out to him, “If it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Imagine the faith in that statement. Jesus grants Peter the command and Peter gets out of the boat. Imagine the confusion as the others watch this event unfold before them.
Peter with his eyes on Jesus walks out to him. The storm rages on but Peter walks. But the winds pick up and distract Peter from Jesus. His eyes once again move to the world and the chaos around him and he begins to sink. He takes a step, the wind picks up, the next step he descends a bit into the water but he takes another step as he looks around and again his foot goes deeper and deeper, slowly as he walks he descends until he is nearly under the raging surf and he cries out, “Lord Save ME!” The passage implies that he did not quickly sink but slowly, as his eyes were more and more distracted from Jesus he sank deeper.
Lord save me, Peter cries. He cries out because even in his lack of faith he knows that Jesus stands firm where others fail. Peter knows that Jesus has the strength and power to reach him before the waves overtake him. But still he doubted. He doubted that He could do what Jesus called him to do. He saw the waves around him raging on, and he doubted that if he was called to walk on the water that Jesus would provide the power for him to do so. But in the doubt he still believed that Jesus could provide the help he needed. Jesus reach out and caught Peter’s hand and they made it safely to the boat and the storm was silenced.
Do we doubt that Jesus is able to provide the strength and power necessary for us to do what we are called to do? Do we doubt that Jesus is able to provide for us even though the storms rage all around us? Do we allow ourselves to be distracted by the waves instead of keeping our focus on Jesus? I so often sink beneath the waves. This is why it is so important to participate in meetings for worship. Because it is in worship that we are reminded and can help each other stay focused on the one that can accomplish through us what we are called to do. Worship is our time to encourage one another to look past the waves and whirlwinds of life and stay focused on the one that calms the raging seas. When we neglect meetings for worship we begin to sink, each step we take we slowly step deeper into the sea, deeper until we are nearly overtaken by the waves.
Worship encourages us, but prayer deepens our faith. It is in prayer that we converse with the divine and develop a relationship with the God who loves us. It is in the moments of prayer that we are inspired to take the step out of the boat into the chaotic world around us. It is in prayer that we learn and experience the grace and salvation of Christ, knowing that His hand will grab hold of ours when we need help.
And it is in ministry where we live the love of Christ with others. It is in our ministry where we become Jesus’ hands and feet for others. Lifting them out of the waves and into the calmness of the kingdom of heaven.
We often get distracted by the chaos around us. The politics of our nation distracts our attention from our callings to be the hands and feet of Jesus to a world drowning in sin. The wars raging on our planet cause us to forget that Christ is the prince of peace. We are called to be the hands and feet of Christ, to become the instruments to bring the will of God on earth as it is in heaven. This is the full gospel, that God is all around here today as he will be tomorrow, and God lives in and through the lives of those that participate in that holy rhythm. It is through this rhythm that the miraculous happens, and we are able to see beyond the waves into the very eyes of God.
As we enter this time of holy expectancy, as we enter a time of communion and prayer with each other and God, let us imagine this seen through the eyes of the disciples as they struggle against the raging storm. Then let us look at the waves through the eyes of Jesus. What are the distractions that we have around us keeping us from experiencing the calm that Jesus wants for us? Let us look beyond those waves and step out of the boat and into the hand of Christ, who came to show us and give us Life more abundantly even as the chaotic storms rage around us. Let us become the people He has called us to be, a people Loving God, Embracing the holy spirit, and living the Love of Christ with Others. And let us become the hands and feet of Jesus that are willing to reach into the waves to pull friends to safety.