At that time, Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was many furlongs distant from the land, beaten by the waves; for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear. But immediately he spoke to them, saying “Take heart, it is I; have no fear.” And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus; but when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “O man of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they entered the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” And when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret.MATTHEW 14:22-34
The disciples were rowing in the storm in today’s gospel. They were cold, wet and tired. It was also pitch dark. When you are in a boat on the stormy seas there is no break from the waves. You can’t press pause.
The wind was blowing against them, otherwise they would have used the sail. And this sounds like the worst-case scenario, but it was not. When it is stormy, the best thing is to have the front of the boat point straight into the waves. What is dangerous is when the waves come from the side. The storm that Jesus left them in was difficult but not deadly.
This is the second time that Jesus is with the disciples in the storm. The last time there was a storm, Jesus was with them in the boat. This time he is on land, and they are rowing alone. He is training them for their work as apostles once he ascends into heaven.
Many interpret this story as “Jesus comes to us in our storm to comfort us.” That is part of the point.
But when Jesus comes to the disciples it is not comforting at first. The disciples think that they are seeing a ghost. You don’t look outside when you’re rowing and working so hard. You can’t see someone walking on the water in that darkness. But suddenly Jesus is right up next to them.
Peter says, Lord, if it is you, tell me come to you.” Peter did not say, “let me walk on the water too.” Rather, Peter says, “let me come to you, Jesus.” Peter did not say, “I am coming.” He waits to hear the voice of Jesus. He waits for a command.
Jesus says, “come.”
Peter is full of love but also eager to the point of recklessness. Jesus affirms his love because Jesus always receives us when we run to him. Jesus also allows Peter to learn how to be more sober.
By allowing Peter to first walk out onto the water, and then sink, Jesus is saying to Peter, “Yes, you want to come to me. That is a desire which will always be fulfilled. But no, you are not invincible in your faith. Take your weakness seriously. Be careful not to get caught up in ecstasy.”
Powerful and intense feelings are deceptive. An intense feeling is not a substitute for sober, mature thought. Feelings are like little children. They are precious and command our attention. They are hard to ignore. They become our darlings.
But feelings have to grow up. Feelings cannot always dominate our conversations. Every child has to learn not to interrupt. Every child has to learn that mom and dad cannot always read them books; cannot always give them a hug. Mom and dad have to correct them. Mom and dad need to expect them to work.
Affection walks hand-in-hand with steady direction. That is how our feelings must be managed. When we allow our feelings to be the boss, especially in our faith, then our world is ruled by a child. A child who is in charge of the house becomes the worst of tyrants.
Love the feelings. Be open to the feelings. But let your inner adult be the boss. That is the best thing for your feelings.
The disciples were on the sea, in the storm. They were almost home when Jesus came to them. The thing that had brought the disciples so close to their goal was not a feeling of ecstasy but hard work.
When Jesus comes to deliver them from the storm He waits until the “fourth watch.” That is something like 4 or 5 in the morning. The night was almost over. They got to their destination immediately after he came to them. Hard work and faithfulness and the mature sobriety brought them most of the way. When Jesus comes to the disciples, He does not calm the storm immediately. The storm is still raging when Peter gets out of the boat. That is why Peter starts to be afraid. Sometimes just as we are about to be delivered the storm gets much worse. That is almost a part of the proof that deliverance is at hand.
Jesus calmed the waters but he did not give them wind from behind to fill their sails either. They still had to row the rest of the way. But because they had been working so hard against the storm, the rest of the work was easy by comparison.
When Peter’s faith starts to fail, when he loses sight of who it is that he is walking towards, when it is less a matter of love and more a matter of being seduced by feelings of wonder, then he sinks. Jesus steps in and supplies what is lacking. At the ordination of a priest or deacon, the bishop prays that God will supply was is lacking.
This means something wonderful and unexpected: we too can be part of supplying the faith that is lacking in others. How is that?
The reason Jesus was not in the boat with them that night was that he withdrew to pray. Perhaps he was praying for them as they rowed. Think about that for a moment. Jesus, our Lord and God and saviour, prays. We pray to him. He prays to his Father.
When we pray, we are praying not only to Jesus but with Jesus. What else are we doing with Jesus? We come to church to serve and to make sacrifices with Jesus. Jesus is not only he who was offered. Jesus is he who offers. He is both the lamb who was slain and the High Priest.
We too make offerings together with Jesus. In the Divine Liturgy we say, “thine own of thine own, we offer unto thee in behalf of all and for all. We do this in behalf of all. We supply what is lacking in their faith by offering up spiritual sacrifices for our own sins and for the ignorance of the people.
Just showing up, just participating is an expression of divine faith. We have come to walk on the water by coming here to church. Even if we do not have an ecstatic feeling of faith, even if we struggle to even know why we are here we are still working together with Jesus to save the world. Faithfulness, showing up and working hard may bring a feeling of closeness to Jesus. But it always is a closeness to Jesus, even if we do not feel it.
And Jesus supplies what is lacking (often by allowing us to struggle, since he knows that we mature in that way). Jesus is with us so that we will become one with him in his prayer and in his ministry to the world.