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I think to be able to come to grips with the Gospel selection of today, it is important to connect it with the Gospel of last week, when we saw Jesus feed the thousands with the five loaves and the two fish. If you remember that story, the disciples come to him and tell Jesus to let the people go home because they’re concerned that there isn’t food for them and there are no places in that vicinity where they will be able to buy food.
Jesus says to them, well tell me what you have. And they say all we have are five loaves of bread and two fish – what good will that do with all these people? Remember the number that’s given us is five thousand plus the women and children.
And Jesus simply says to them, bring me what you have. And he blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to them to distribute. And all of the people are fed, and there are 12 baskets left over.
The story picks up here. Jesus says to the disciples that they should get in the boat and they should go to the other side and he’ll meet them there. And then he dismisses the crowd and he goes off to pray on the mountain alone.
But i ask you to give yourselves a few minutes to reflect on what it must have been like in that boat. As the disciples are there, how they must have been one. How did he do that? How did he feed all those people? What’s happening? Confused … confused is probably the best word, and so they take off in the boat. And lo and behold as the night wears on, the wind comes up.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a boat when you start out and it’s nice and calm, and then the wind picks up. I had that experience many years ago out in California. A friend of mine had a boat, and he said let’s take a trip to Catalina – the island off the shore of California, the southern shore.
Oh yeah, that’s great. Fine. You know we went going over – water was as calm as one could imagine – and we made it over there in no time and we spent the beautiful day on Catalina wandering around having lunch and everything.
Then it was time to come back, and so we got, went down to the marina, got the boat. He pulled it out of the marina and he said to me, well you’ve had experience driving the boat? Yeah, I’d experienced. He said, take over, drive the boat back to Marina del Rey, where we were going back.
And I said the water was calm, it was fine. I figured, what problem is there going to be? We’ll speed along and be back to the mainland in no time. Then the wind came, and all of a sudden the Pacific showed its strength and we had to maneuver the boat through the turbulent waters of the Pacific – a very frightening experience – and I just as I was listening or reflecting on the scripture, I thought what would have happened if, while we were in that turbulent situation trying to make our way safely back to the shore, if somebody had come walking on the water, taught us, we would have lost control of everything. We would have been totally terrified, thinking that it was an omen, telling us the end was here.
Well, put that in the context of the disciples in the boat. There they are with their oars trying to stabilize the ship, and they see this figure walking toward them on the water. How terrifying it had to be! They’re still trying to figure out what happened on the shore and how all of those people were fed with so little. So you begin to see the challenge that’s in front of them. Jesus senses, he senses their fear, and he calls out to them. But I’m sure as he called out to them and they’re in that boat and everything is going up and down, they were probably not even sure they were hearing his voice, because they weren’t sure who it was, who was coming toward them.
Whether it was just their imagination at that point, but he calls and tells them not to be afraid, not to be afraid. Peter – who always stands out in the Scriptures – Peter kind of looks and says if it is you Lord, if it is, you tell me to get out of the boat and let me walk to you.
The significance is that Peter is testing. He’s testing at this point, are you real? Is this a real moment? Is this really happening? And Jesus says to him, Peter get out of the boat and walk to me. and Peter gets out and starts walking but then the reality of the moment takes over he feels the force of the wind and becomes terrified and he begins to sink and he cries out to Jesus and Jesus reaches and grabs him by the hand and lifts him up. And they both get into the boat and the wind dies down.
I think when you look at these two stories and you put them together, you begin to realize that Matthew was talking more about a little incident on the water. What he was talking about was the reality of church and how church deals with the reality of life. How we deal with the reality of life, because what Jesus was showing them was something dramatically different. He was showing them the new creation. He was showing them the power of God at work in the midst of the reality of the world.
In a sense he was saying, in me there is a new reality. It is the reality of God’s new creation and it’s manifested in my ability to feed 5,000 and more with the few loaves and the few fish. It’s the new reality of my being able to walk toward you on the water and invite you to do the same, to in a sense enter the new creation and be part of this new moment that God has brought into being, by coming to be one with us in our life.
Peter really represents then the challenge, but the challenge is that we get enthusiastic over that. We get excited over it. Then reality comes: the wind, the reality comes, and we say this can’t be, this can’t be that God has so changed creation that I can see the face of God in another human person. That can’t be. Let’s go back to the old way, rather than venturing forth into the new, walking on the water.
Unfortunately the story – as Matthew captures it – is the story of human history. It’s the story of how God is ever drawing us forth and how we continue out of fear to hold back. God calling us forth, we hold back because we’re afraid we’re going to sink, chaos will emerge.
God forbid that we see the world through the eyes of God. God forbid that we see the face of God in every other human person. God forbid that we build our relationships on that reality. So much easier to revert, it’s so much easier to go back to what we know what we’ve experienced, rather than entrust ourselves into the hand of Jesus and let him lead us as he led Peter, led Peter. Because ultimately Peter learned through experience he learned to trust, to trust the Lord, and to walk not by his own will, but by the will of God.
And it’s the same with us. We have to learn that we have to learn that, and the only way we learn it is by following the example of Jesus in this story, in this episode – an episode that is repeated over and over again in the Scripture. Jesus goes off to pray, he goes off to pray, that he may continue to nurture and he may continue to be fed with his relationship with the Father. And ultimately it is the relationship with the Father that allows Him to manifest the New Creation, a creation that does not abide by fear, but lives by hope – hope born of the love of God for us.
And so my friends, as we listen to the Scripture today, it challenges us, challenges us. How willing are we to walk on the water? How willing are we to trust God’s love to sustain us that we may not only live in the New Creation, but be part of God’s ongoing effort to build the New Creation, a new creation that will find us living as the beloved community of God. Community, where we truly learn to see in the face of each other the face of God, who chose to be one with us that we could be one with God.