Encounter on the Sea

Scriptures: Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28; Matthew 14:22-33

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

Walking on the water: one of the best-loved and oft-remembered stories of the miracles of our Lord. In context, the disciples have had one encounter on the sea already. Early in his ministry, Jesus was with them in the boat during a storm, asleep; as the waves tossed and turned and the storm built they paniced, woke him, and he stood up and rebuked the storm and all grew still. “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?” They cried.

Just before today’s passage, Jesus had heard of the beheading of his cousin, John the Baptist. He had fled to the mountain to pray. He had been interrupted by a great following, and was led by compassion to nourish them in their need, feeding over 5000 men besides women and children. Miraculously, 5 loaves of barley bread and two fish physically feed them all. Finally he is able to flee again to the mountain and prays all night, finally nourishing himself in communion with God.

Meanwhile, the disciples had set out over the sea and again encountered a storm. They have been tossed to and fro all night long in fear for their very lives. Unlike the last time they were together in one boat, however, this time Jesus was absent. What follows in this story is completely different.

5And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; 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 toward 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 worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

I find it curious that Jesus doesn’t get into the boat right away. I wonder if the writer intentionally picked this story as a mid-point in the journey of faith for the disciples. If so, could the Gospel of Matthew be a metaphor for any believer’s journey of faith, with this story like the crest of a wave, a point of no return? I wonder…

The Gospel of Matthew begins by introducing Jesus as Emmanuel, “God with us.” The circumstances of his birth and early years progress rapidly to his Baptism and commissioning, then gathering of disciples. Gradually the disciples begin to learn what it means to have God with them in the person of Jesus Christ. The more they learn, the more they are pushed to grow in faith.

How curious Jesus at first lets the disciples experience an entire night of tempest on their own before coming to them on the storm-tossed waves of the sea. How curious that Jesus doesn’t immediately still the wind and waves, and how curious that Peter steps out of the boat, briefly walking on water before beginning to sink and calling out for Jesus. Jesus reaches out his hand to save, then they both step into the boat before the storm becomes still.

Is that how it is in our journeys of faith? At first, when we are new in our belief, Jesus is right there with us, either awake or asleep, but right there. I wonder, then, as we mature in faith, if Jesus steps further back and pushes us to stand upon our own two feet as we learn to become followers and emulators of the Way the Truth and the Life? What about when times are hard and the tempest blows all around? Is Jesus just as near as Jesus needs to be? Perhaps the tempest is all that blows around us, within us, seeking to subsume or fracture all of who we are – yet we can still call on Jesus to be our center of calm.

In addition to these “wonderings,” there are some unmistakably deep theological points that need to be highlighted. First of all, in Hebrew thought, the sea, or any body of water, represents chaos: all that unmakes; an antithesis of the generativity of God. Paradoxically, however, God is still sovereign even over the sea as Creator.

“So when Jesus approaches the disciples in their boat as they battle with the elements, the prospect is, naturally, terrifying. Who can walk here with such authority and freedom? The act and its associations are unmistakable. Jesus is exercising a prerogative that belongs to God alone. When he speaks to them, his words serve only to reinforce the sense that this is a divine revelation.”[1]

Second, when Jesus does speak to the terrified disciples, Matthew has him use the Greek form of the Divine Name, egoœ eimi, “it is I.”

“Jesus is using the divine name to announce his presence. I Am is here, trampling victoriously over the waves. In these brief but charged words and in the awesome vision that unfolds before the disciples, Jesus is identifying himself with God, the liberator and redeemer of Israel, who is at the same time the creator of the world and the victor over chaos.”[2]

Third,

“Peter calls him “Lord” without understanding that title’s full significance. The lordship of Jesus is given specific content and meaning in this incident: he is lord over the deep, over the wind and the waves and all the destructive forces that threaten to overwhelm human life. Jesus’ actions here hold out the promise of a new exodus for his followers, a new entry into the land of promise, a new future… The whole event leads up to a mighty confession of faith: “Truly you are the Son of God” (v. 33).”[3]

Which leaves us with only two questions to answer: Who do you say that He is?   Where are you in your journey of faith today?

May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.

[1] Russel-Jones, Iwan. Feasting on the Word—Year A David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, General Editors. Copyright © 2010 Westminster John Knox Press; Louisville, Kentucky; All rights reserved. Used by permission. Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

Questions for Reflection

How do you reconcile a sense of division within yourself and the world with the unity we are promised as the people of God? What sustains you in times of conflict? Identify some occasions in your life when you were unable to recognize an invitation to reconciliation and wholeness.

Household Prayer: Morning

Lord of Life, we greet this new day sustained by the great cloud of witnesses who praise your name. Help us to lay aside any burden or distraction that might prevent us from fully serving you this day.

Give us perseverance and joy so that we may come to the end of the day confident in your presence and aware of your blessings. Amen.

Household Prayer: Evening

God of Hope, confirm for us at the close of this day the fulfillment of your promise of provision. Release our concerns for things done and left undone. Give us your peace so that we rise refreshed to serve you with openness and love. Amen.

About Scottrick

Parent ~ Pastor ~ Poet ~ Author
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