Fresh from their miraculous feeding of the 5,000, the disciples are about to encounter another miracle of Jesus but this one will be like none other. Jesus has decided to stay behind for some quiet meditative time in prayer while he sends the disciples of in a boat to sail to the other side of the sea. During the night, the disciples are tossed about by a storm at sea in what would seem to them to be stronger than their boat can handle. They are frightened and exhausted by their struggle against the storm.
Matthew tells us that it is the “the fourth watch” — well into the night, between 3 and 6am. In the darkest hour when they should be tucked into bed to get their sleep – when any sound can start the heart thumping with fear, Jesus comes to the terrified disciples walking on the water. What does this mean to walk on water? Jesus doesn’t do anything without there being a meaning or teaching behind. Surely Jesus could have just got the next available boat and made his way over.
But before Jesus can come to their rescue his appearance only adds to their fear. Now there is even more to fear –is it a ghost?
Besides the fear of the storm, a new fear arises, fear of one who seems to be a ghost coming towards them. What on earth does it mean? To understand the significance of Jesus walking on the sea we need to understand firstly what does the sea represent. In Jesus’ time the sea was a place of chaos and evil. When Jesus healed the demon possessed man the demons didn’t want to be sent to the abyss which was a fearful place for them. They asked to be sent into the pigs that were on the mountainside. And as soon as they entered into the pigs they rushed into the sea because that was where they felt safe. In the book of Revelation, chapter 21, when St John sees the new Heaven the first thing that he tells us about that vision was that there was no more sea. No place for evil to dwell or hide.
And so Jesus walking on the water is to tell us that he has full authority over the world of evil. Even though evil was allowed to enter into the earthly realm, Jesus is still Lord. That’s what St Paul also said in Philippians 2: Therefore God exalted Jesus to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
So what can we learn from today’s miracle, because miracles are not just given as evidence to prove Jesus is the Son of God – the Messiah. They all have teaching lessons. The first thing we see is that Jesus made them get into the boat while he went off to pray. For me this teaching moment shows that we have freedom in life as they sail off alone. And that means that sometimes, in our freedom, we are exposed to the elements. We are exposed to evil – to sickness – to crime. But what was Jesus doing? He was praying. And that’s what he continues to do for us now – he is praying for us. He is at the right hand of God interceding for us. And where was their journey? Interesting that Matthew doesn’t state their destination but calls it – to the other side.
That too is our journey – that too is our destination – to the other side. We are on a journey to our heavenly home in Heaven and until we are there safely Jesus is praying for us. Are you feeling overwhelmed, rocked, shaken – just remember, you are on a journey to heaven – Jesus has placed you in the boat – and he is praying for your safe arrival.
But as we see in our gospel reading – sometimes the wind and waves rock our lives and we panic and we fear.
We think we are going to drown. We think we are not going to make it. And suddenly help arrives. Here comes Jesus, unaffected by all the things that are attacking us and he calls out to us “don’t be afraid – here I am.
What’s interesting in the original reading from the Greek New Testament is that Jesus exact words are – don’t be afraid – I AM. I AM – the name God gave to Moses to free them from the evil of Egypt’s slavery – the Name God gave to bring freedom – I AM. The name above all names and given now to Jesus – remember the Philippians reading I mentioned earlier: Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
Jesus comes to you in the midst of all our fears and says – don’t be afraid – I AM God. And all the forces of evil must submit to me. They can rock you and attack you from every side – but I’m going to deliver you to the other side as I have promised. And I’m going to pray for you. And sometimes Jesus even calls us right into the eye of the storm – like Peter.
And as he encountered the full force of the wind and the waves and began to sink and feel like he was going to drown – Jesus reaches out and places him back into boat that is journeying to the other side.
It is easy for us to identify with those terrified disciples as we face the deadly storm of the pandemic and the effects of the restrictions and shutdowns. Having faith when things are all going well is different to faith when a storm is so violent, life-threatening. We cannot predict or prevent the storms that come up. As seasoned fishermen surely the disciples would not have entered the boat if the weather conditions suggested in any way that a storm was brewing. And that’s how life is – the storms hit us when we least expect them. But Jesus is always with us – praying for us – disregarding the storms and coming to us to reassure us of his presence and authority. Remember in your baptism, Jesus said “All Authority in Heaven and Earth has been given to me” – and “I am with you always till the end of the age – till you have reached the other side – till you have reached your heavenly home in heaven.
The storm didn’t die down even when Peter got out of the boat to walk towards Jesus. But Jesus didn’t back away either, but like a parent teaching their child to walk he stands there with his arms outstretched. And like when the child falls, Jesus reaches out his hand and picks Peter up. We look forward to when the pandemic storm is over. We pray that our faith in Jesus’ stays firm. But even when this storm passes there will be more storms that we will need to face.
Until it is over we pray that Jesus enables us to walk on the water like Peter – and that when we begin to sink, like Peter, that Jesus will intervene and pick us up and place us back onto firm ground. Sometimes Jesus seems as if he is not there but remember that he is always there praying for us. Sometimes Jesus’ help is not seen, just like Elijah didn’t hear God’s word in the wind, the earthquake or the fire – but in the silence. Sometimes it is in what appears to be sheer silence that Jesus is truly present. Maybe it seems like God is silent at present. Maybe it seems like the storm of the pandemic is in control – or rather ‘out of control’. But remember – you are on a journey to the other side – to heaven.
It is the destination that matters and Jesus has assured your arrival. And even if it really seems at present that that is hard to believe – call on the name of the Lord – call upon Jesus Christ your saviour – and remember what Paul says today in our 2nd reading – Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
Maybe not always saved from the effects of the evil of this age – but without a shadow of doubt saved for eternal life in heaven which is our destination.