Earlier in Matthew’s gospel we had the story of the calming of the storm. Today’s reading was the story of Jesus’ walking on the water:
Matthew 14: 22-33
Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.
But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
“Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
I have never really compared these two stories of the disciples in their boat & Jesus.The common elements of the accounts are that the disciples are in a boat, they’re sailing across the sea of Galilee and there is a storm (or it was at least a ‘bit choppy’ in this walking on water account – v24). What I noticed this time is where Jesus is in each account. In the first, he is in the boat with them (albeit fast asleep!), in the second, he is outside the boat, walking on the water! In both instances the disciples let out the kinds of prayers we all sometimes pray: ‘Lord, don’t you care?’ (Matt 8: 25) ‘Lord, save me!’ (Matt 14: 30) And of course, Jesus responds. I noticed that when Peter is hauled up out of the water by Jesus that Jesus is not yet in the boat, he’s ‘standing’ on the water! These two accounts of Jesus show both the humanity (being asleep) and the divinity (walking on water) of Jesus. We see a similar picture in the transfiguration, Jesus shines like the sun and then, suddenly, he is human again and reassuringly touches the disciples to prove it. These accounts point to the ultimate destiny of Christ to die and rise again. His resurrected body displays his divinity and his humanity – he’s alive again (which shouldn’t be possible) – his divinity, but he eats – showing his humanity. A great mystery! I wrote last week about my experience on the Prayer Labyrinth. What I learnt there was that God is with me always, wherever I am on the journey of life. This is clear here in these accounts of the disciples’ trips out at sea. Sometimes Jesus is in the boat with us, sometimes he is outside the boat – but what this actually means is that Jesus is God, he is with us all the time, he is the God of Psalm 139: You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. (v 5) … If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. (vv 8-10) Jesus’ presence with us on the journey of our lives is always encircling. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end (Rev 1:8). He is behind and before us.
Here is part of the prayer known as the Breastplate of St Patrick. Pray it, knowing that this is as true for you as it was for Peter and the other disciples:
Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ above me, Christ below me,
Christ to left, and Christ to right
Christ within, both day and night
And here is this same prayer set to some beautiful music: