22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land,[d] for the wind was against them. 25 And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27 But 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.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he noticed the strong wind,[e] he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
After feeding the thousands who followed him into the wilderness, Jesus commands the disciples to head across the sea without him while he remains on shore to send the crowds on their way and then spend some time in communion with his Father on the mountain. While the disciples are crossing, a storm arises that threatens to engulf them. They spend the better part of an anxious night navigating the waves, and in the early hours of the morning Jesus strides across the water to meet them.
Mistaking Jesus for a wave-walking specter, the disciples grow even more alarmed as he draws near. In response, Jesus reassures them that it is he who is coming to them. His encouragement works…and then some, as Peter is emboldened to ask if he might join Jesus out on the water. At first confident given his Lord’s assent, Peter soon remembers the height of the waves and depth of the sea and loses heart, whereupon Jesus reaches out and grabs him. While Jesus remarks on his lack of faith, it’s at this moment that the disciples see Jesus as if for the first time, confessing, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Which is interesting, when you think about it. I mean, Jesus had just fed thousands upon thousands of helpless and vulnerable people, revealing both divine power and divine compassion. And yet it’s here, at this moment of extremity, when the disciples perceive most clearly who Jesus is.
So part of what strikes me in this passage is how it reveals something deeply true about humanity, as I have a hunch the disciples are not alone in this proclivity. I know, at least, that I have often overlooked God’s presence in the peaceful and pleasant portions of my life yet called out in earnest when things took a difficult turn.
I’m not totally sure why this is, but I think part of it is that we spend a fair amount of our time and energy trying to establish a stable, safe, and secure life, both for us and those we love. There’s nothing wrong with that on one level. From the beginning, God desires that we flourish, and stability promotes growth. But all too often we note our modest success and assume we no longer need God, or at least forget how much a part of our lives God is and desires to be. Or perhaps we confuse safety and stability with abundant life. Either way, we may forget how much we depend on God. Until tragedy strikes in the form of illness and job loss or the end of a relationship or some grave mistake we’ve made, and suddenly our ongoing need for God becomes painfully clear.
But the story doesn’t only tell us about ourselves, it also tells us about God. This in two ways.
First, no matter what it is that reminds us of our need for God, still God responds. Just as Jesus reassures the disciples and reaches out to grab hold of Peter, so also God responds to us with compassion and support.
Second, and I’d argue more importantly, God not only responds to our need, but actually desires that we seek to live lives of abundance and courage. Notice that Jesus actually commanded the disciples to cross the sea to go ahead of him, trusting them to navigate both sea and storm. And while some commentators may suggest that Peter’s request to join Jesus upon the waves is a mark of impetuous foolishness, I suspect there was some delight in Jesus’ summons to Peter to come out from the boat.
I’m also struck by Jesus’ three-fold response to the disciples.
- First, he urges them to “take heart.”
- Second, he reveals his presence with, among, and for them. For while we translate what Jesus utters as “It is I,” the Greek is more sparse, succinct, and significant: “I Am.” I suspect that neither the disciples nor Matthew’s audience would mistake the pronouncement of the divine name.
- Third, having revealed his presence and identity, Jesus then encourages the disciples once more to leave fear behind and live what Brené Brown calls “whole-hearted” lives.
And I think this is still God’s desire for us. God desires, that is, that we trust that God is with us and for us and thereby live with courage and hope, taking chances, risking ourselves in relationship, seeking the welfare of the individuals and community around us, all the while remembering that even when we overlook God’s presence yet God is always there, sometimes to encourage us to overcome our fears, sometimes sending us out ahead, and sometimes reaching out to grab hold of us in forgiveness, mercy, comfort, and grace.
We send a delegation from this congregation to the Presbyterian Youth Triennium in July and they were challenged to think about “giving their hearts” to God. Let me invite these participants to come share about this experience:
- Becca Brown
- Eric Campo
- Chris Gould
- Ben Oehler
- Jeff Sexton
- Sydney Sexton
- Megan Witherspoon
- Becky Schad
- Tell me one time you experienced God during the Triennium?
- Favorite activity/event
- Peter stepping out of the boat, when we offer our lives to God we are transformed. How have you been transformed?
- Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.
- Where’s your heart? What are you passionate about?
Commentary provided by David Lose, Gal Pal Preachers, and members of the Youth Group