'If [Jesus] were simply another human being, we might well look to him for advice on how to handle this world. We might look to him to tell us what to do so that we could make it through life avoiding tragedy and receiving good things. We might even see his life as a life to imitate so that we can encounter God. But we wouldn’t look to him for salvation, because only God can save. When Jesus says, I am, that means that he can save, and the only one who can save is God. Therefore we may take courage and bid our fears cease.'
22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23And after 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. 25And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake. 26But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, 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.’
28 Peter 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.’
The crowds who were fed with the loaves and fish have been sent home, the disciples have been sent ahead on the boat, and Jesus can finally be alone with his heavenly Father. We have seen this at other times in the Gospels, when Jesus has gone to a deserted place to pray to the Father overnight, often after a day of ministry among the people. One interpretation is that Jesus needs to recharge, to refresh, to spend time alone, as human beings often do after a mentally challenging activity.
He prays to the Father and he then goes to find the disciples. Now the disciples are far from land, far from safety, far from Jesus. We might safely assume that they are afraid of the waves which are crashing against the boat. But this is not the fear that Matthew mentions. Instead he shows the disciples seeing Jesus, but believing they see a ghost. They do not know who this person is, or what he intends.
Who is God, and what does he intend for us? These are the questions of anxious humanity. Remember, at this point in St. Matthew’s story, the disciples don’t yet know Jesus’ true identity. On the boat they don’t know that the man on the waves is Jesus. But we are meant to see, perhaps, that it goes beyond this, and that what is hidden to the disciples is not only who is on the lake, but Jesus’ true identity.
Even those of low estate cannot be trusted.
On the scales they are lighter than a breath,
All of them together.
Put no trust in extortion, in robbery take no empty pride,
Though wealth increase, set not your heart upon it.
But the same Psalm also says,
For God alone my soul in silence waits,
From him comes my salvation.
He alone is my rock and my salvation;
My fortress, so that I shall not be greatly shaken.
The Rev. Maurice C. Frontz,
St Stephen Lutheran Church
August 9, 2020