(for the Nineth Sunday After Pentecost, August 10, 2014)
Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake. But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’
Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’
When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. After the people of that place recognized him, they sent word throughout the region and brought all who were sick to him, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed. (Matthew 14:22-36, NRSV)
It took a while – but Jesus finally found time to pray.
After dismissing that blessed crowd and sending the disciples to the ‘other side’ he hiked to the top of ‘the mountain’ to commune with God. We can only imagine the how needed it was. He recently lost his friend and then spent a full day healing and teaching the crowd.
Now, however, it is evening. Jesus is on the wrong side of the lake. The wind whips waves that batter the disciple’s little boat.
Jesus is needed once again.
There’s a disconcerting timing to this passage. The description of the disciple’s need occurs in the ‘evening’. But Jesus’ response is – uncomfortably – ‘early in the morning’. It would seem the obedient disciples battle the storm all night while Jesus silently prays.
Is this about increasing the disciple’s faith or Jesus getting his break? Perhaps both.
Maybe the answer is not all that important – the timing of God is a perfect mystery.
Of course, Jesus is concerned. He does miraculously rescue. He walks the water, calms their fears, and invites the enthusiastic Peter to join him.
Which he did. Peter may need Jesus’ hand to prevent his drowning but immediately prior to this he too walks the waves. Maybe in Jesus designation ‘little faith’ resides an element of endearment. Peter, typically, has moved from great faith to distracted doubt in the time it takes to notice the wind. I like the thought that Jesus names him for his faith.
I also like the though that this previously-delayed Jesus responds ‘immediately’ to Peter’s faith inspired predicament. Again God’s perfect timing.
When the water-walkers return to the boat and the wind dies the disciple’s response is truly wonderful. They worship. They have discovered, learned, responded: a perfect outcome.
And after all this, it looks like Jesus really did want to get to the other side. This is gentile territory. The echoes, however, of the Jewish ministry at the feeding of the five thousand are strong. Another crowd. More healings. A second region in ecstasy at the presence of Jesus.
Surely this one is for the whole world!