Matthew 14:22-36: Jesus Walks on the Water
22Jesus made the disciples get into a boat and go on ahead to the other side of the Sea of Galilee while He dismissed the crowds. 23After He had dismissed the crowds, He went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, He was there alone, 24but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25Early in the morning He came walking towards them on the lake. 26When the disciples saw Him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ They cried out in fear, 27but immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is me; do not be afraid.’
28Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ 29He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus, 30but when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and, beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ 31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ 32When they got into the boat, the wind ceased, 33and those in the boat worshipped Him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’
34When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. 35After the people of that place recognised Him, they sent word throughout the region and brought all who were sick to Him, 3636and begged Him that they might touch even the fringe of His cloak; and all who touched it were healed.How long, O Lord?
Text ©The New Revised Standard Version, alt, Used with permission.
Last week’s gospel told us the story of the feeding of the 5000, which was reportedly only the count of men, not of the women and children who made up the rest of the crowd. The disciples, having cleaned up twelve baskets full of remnants – but not having done anything with them – are told to get into a boat and head for the distant shore while Jesus makes sure the crowd dissipates. Having accomplished all He needed to do in that place Jesus makes time to be alone with God, and, like any introvert, to recharge His battery. Crowds can be tiring, and can make too much noise for God to be heard. Extroverts, please note! This was one of many occasions on which Jesus disappeared from view so He could spend time with God. Those who want to follow in Christ’s footsteps, as any good Christian should, need to take time out for God.
It was dark; it was windy; the waves were creating quite a spray; yet Jesus came walking on the water, in the middle of the lake, or Sea of Galilee. No wonder the disciples were terrified. I think I’d need some clean underwear too! Despite them having spent time with Jesus, learning His ways and His teachings, and getting a sense of who He really was, to see a human figure walking across the water would have appeared very much like seeing a ghost. I don’t know how effective it would have been, but Jesus continues towards them and tells them not to be afraid. They were already afraid before He spoke. Surely speaking to them would make them more afraid, not less. Most English translations take the Greek εγω ειμι (ego aimee) and give us “it is I” when good English grammar, as distinct from the Greek grammar, needs “it is me.”
εγω ειμι is The Great “I AM”, not only of the Hebrew Scriptures but also of Christ’s own discourse with the disciples, in which He said “I AM the bread of life”, “I AM the way”, “I AM the truth”, and more.
Peter was still unsure of what he was seeing, so blurted out for Jesus to call him across the water. With eyes firmly focussed on Christ, and having accepted the invitation to come to Him, Peter sets out to meet up with Jesus. While his focus is on Christ he succeeds in his efforts, but as soon as his concentration is taken up by what he is doing he begins to sink. Anything is possible with God, even walking on water, but once we lose sight of Him we fall for everything that can go wrong. What does that say to us when we don’t follow the teachings of Christ, or the example He set with the foot-washing, and the establishment of the Eucharist?
Peter, the one held up as a founding father of the Church, failed to keep his focus on God, and had to be rescued, again, and again. How many times was Peter rescued by Christ? Let’s just say “a lot”. In Matthew 8 Jesus was asleep in the stern of a boat when a storm raged, and after He was woken He rebuked the wind, and it stopped, so why did He not rebuke the wind this time, before He got to the boat? Doing so would have been just as effective for the disciples as calming the storm when He had reached them. Was their declaration that Jesus is the Son of God truly a revelation for them, or a response to seeing someone calm a storm as quickly and easily as Christ did for them? We may never know until we get a chance to ask in the next life.
I was trying to locate Gennesaret on a map of the region in the time of Christ, and to work out where the earlier gathering might have been, but there are different renditions of where the town might have been. That, of course, is the analyst in me wanting to get an accurate picture of where things happened, but what happened is far more important than where it happened. Jesus was recognised – despite His habit of disappearing His fame went before Him and He couldn’t escape being known. Not only that, but also people were so sure of His power to heal them that they only needed to touch the hem of His dress (robe) to be healed. Does that remind us of the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years (Matthew 9:20)? Even just her touch of His robe was picked up by Christ, who felt the healing power go from Him. Those who succeeded in touching Him or His robe were healed, such was their faith. We don’t have the luxury of having Christ visiting us in the same way, or do we? Those who walk as Christ can often heal just by their presence and people listening, and we won’t know if Christ is in the person next to us in the street, or in the supermarket, or at a sporting event – where they can be held – unless we are open to that possibility, and thinking of others rather than ourselves.