'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.’
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.
another thought is this: the times in which Jesus makes God’s power to heal and
save present to the people are also times of great temptation for him. He is
the Son of God, but he is also true human being, and as such is subject to
temptation – in this case the temptation to become what the crowds want him to
be, their own personal miracle-worker, who will be constantly giving them
bread, or a violent Messiah who will bring death to their enemies and bring
about the kingdom of God on earth. Isn’t this what we want God to do for us at
times, to ensure our own well-being by giving us prosperity and smiting our
enemies? But if he were to do this, he could do only this. He would not be able
to fulfill the purpose for which he came to earth, which was to restore sinners
to God by the blood of his cross. And so, he seeks strength from the Father,
perhaps praying the very words he taught his disciples, Lead us not into
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.
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’
cry out in terror, and he does not remain silent but he immediately speaks to
them, saying, Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid. ‘Heart,’ meaning,
take courage, be strong. ‘Do not be afraid,’ the words of angels to Mary and
Joseph and to shepherds in the field and to a woman who has lost her child. But
he also says, ‘It is I,’ and these words can also be translated I am. Remember
what God says to Moses from the burning bush, when Moses asks God his name so
that he can tell the Israelites who has appeared to him. God says, I AM WHO
takes this name, and applies it to himself. If he 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.
Peter does not ask Jesus to save him just yet. Peter instead reveals a new
aspect of the disciples’ inability to understand Jesus. Peter believes that
since Jesus can walk on water, Jesus can give him the power to walk on water. Peter
wants to be like Jesus, and if walking on water is what Jesus does, then he
wants to do it too. Remember that question, What would Jesus do? that
was on all those bumper stickers and little rubber bracelets years ago? Peter
wants to do what Jesus does.
the better question, however, is what does Jesus do? Perhaps a better
question is Who is Jesus? If Peter walks on the water for a little
while, this is not an indication that we could walk on the water if we only had
a little more faith than Peter. Instead it is to show us that walking on the
water without Jesus is not a human possibility. If you disbelieve me, get on a
boat and go out on the river and try and step off the boat onto the surface of
the water. I’m not going to try that. It’s not because I don’t believe that
Jesus walked on the water. It’s because I believe that Jesus is not calling me
to walk on the water.
the symbolism of walking on the water is apparent. Walking on the water is the
symbol for trying to make it on our own, or to try to make sense of this world
without Jesus. If we look at the world without Jesus, our two options are pride
or despair: pride that we are better than other people and have our lives all
together, or despair that the world is going to hell and our lives are not in
order as they should be. Faith is not an option if we look at the world without
Jesus, for faith in ourselves and our own abilities and faith in other human
beings has proven to be hopeless. As Psalm 62 says:
of high degree are but a fleeting breath,
those of low estate cannot be trusted.
the scales they are lighter than a breath,
of them together.
no trust in extortion, in robbery take no empty pride,
wealth increase, set not your heart upon it.
the same Psalm also says,
God alone my soul in silence waits,
him comes my salvation.
alone is my rock and my salvation;
fortress, so that I shall not be greatly shaken.
cries out, Lord, save me! and Jesus ‘immediately’ catches him and puts
him in the boat. This is faith, not trust in what we can do but in what Jesus
does for us. This is the prayer of faith, Lord, save me! It is the
prayer which the Church prays every week, Lord, have mercy. It is what
we pray when we say, ‘Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our
trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into
temptation, but deliver us from evil.’
Jesus is bringing Peter back to the boat, he says, ‘You of little faith, why
did you doubt?’ We are accustomed to thinking that if only Peter had had more
faith he could have walked all the way to Jesus. But perhaps it was Peter’s
little faith that was in evidence when he got out of the boat in the first
place. We are not Jesus. We do not have faith enough to walk on water, to
remain free from sin, to face the world without God. But in the communion of
the Church, in the midst of the storms of life, we can cry, ‘Lord, save me!’
‘Lord, save us!’ ‘Lord, have mercy!’ And we can be confident that he will hear
us and immediately come to us to be with us and to reassure us and to give us
courage and to calm our fears, that we may reach the far shore.
are the Son of God. Now
the disciples recognize that in Jesus is the God who has the power to save.
Their understanding of Jesus’ Sonship, how he saves us, is only in its infancy.
It takes the cross and resurrection for that to be plainly revealed. Perhaps we
do not completely understand, even in the light of cross and resurrection, what
every purpose of God is. But we are in the boat with the disciples. The place
where you sit in church is called the ‘nave,’ the Latin for ‘boat.’ It’s where
we get our word ‘navy.’ We are in the boat with the disciples, and with them we
may say, You are the Son of God, and in so doing put our childlike trust
that here indeed in Jesus is God with power to save us. Amen
Rev. Maurice C. Frontz,
Stephen Lutheran Church