In Adverse Winds
1. Today we read from Matthew's Gospel at chapter fourteen and verse twenty-two. Just before that the miracle of the five loaves and two fish is recorded. There [we had] illustrated [for us] the imagery of Jesus breaking the bread and passing it to his disciples, the disciples carrying that bread and the people receiving it. The disciples were the ones distributing it, but we saw that they really had nothing of themselves from the start. They carried to the people what they had received from Jesus and shared it with them. There was great joy in that. There was the joy of a banquet from the kingdom of heaven. This is one of the images of the church. It is an image overflowing with joy and splendor. Jesus was crucified, he gave us all of himself going beyond the example given in the bread. We have joy in sharing with the people the blessings of Christ given on the cross. The church experiences a foretaste of the heavenly kingdom's banquet.
2. But, that's not all. The church is in this world for a reason and has another picture to fulfill. Today's passage of scriptures shows it. They were not permitted to stay in the joy of eating together. The crowd was made to disperse. The disciples were in one of the boats crossing to the opposite shore in obedience to Jesus' instructions. Then, their boat met up with a storm. They were troubled by its adverse winds and began to suffer inside over it. This is another image of the church.
It's Me. Don't Be Afraid.
3. Jesus forced the disciples and made them board the boat. They obeyed the word of the Lord and began to row. But, what awaited them after being obedient to the word of the Lord was a storm on the lake. Tossed by wind and wave, they couldn't move forward like they wanted to. And to make matters worse, their main stay Jesus was not in the boat in any visible form.
4. No Jesus. Worry and fear because he was absent. The experience of the disciples who were on that boat has also been the experience of the church in later ages. After Christ was crucified, he resurrected and appeared to his disciples, and the manifestation of the risen Christ did not keep on continuously after that. Luke, who wrote The Acts Of The Apostles, tells us that it lasted for forty days. He records the end of that manifestation period with the ascension of Christ to heaven. How ever [long it may have been is not the issue], in the long history of the church spanning two thousand years later, Christ has not been with [us] in a visible form. Even when the church has been in storms of persecution, Christ was not there for the church in a visible form. When the church is tossed from the outside by the many different powers of the world, when it is stirred up on the inside by the power of the devil, when Christians shed tears and cry out in shouts, Christ has never been with them in a form visible to the eye. Many people may have many times wondered how much better it would be if, oh, Christ were with us in a visible way!
5. Then, the story goes on like this. "About dawn, Jesus was walking on the lake and coming to his disciples. The disciples saw Jesus walking on the lake, they said spooked out, 'It's a ghost,' and made shouts of fear. Jesus immediately spoke directly to them. 'Peace. It's me. Do not be afraid,'" (verses twenty-five through twenty-seven).
6. The expression that "he was walking on the lake" is quite impressive. Somebody might think, "Such a thing could never happen." I just might agree with you. First, the important thing here is that to the ship tossed by wind and wave, it meant that he was approaching them in a manner [where you'd say,] "Such a thing could never happen." In other words, it means that Christ draws near to the church, he is with his church, and speaks to it in realities that exceed human thinking, in divine events from the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, this is the very thing that the church has been experiencing for ages, and it is the experience given to us as well.
7. Then there is another thing important there, which is, the particular that Christ "walked on the lake." It is translated "lake," But this is the word for "sea." "The sea" for the ancients symbolized the power of the dreaded chaos in which a human being has no control. The boat was truly being tossed by a power of that sort and it was on the brink of disaster. But, Christ came to them treading over the dreaded powers of darkness.
8. Then, since he is the Christ that he is, he spoke to them as follows. "Peace. It's me. Do not be afraid," (verse twenty-seven). This doesn't just mean, "I'm no ghost. It's me. So don't be scared." The statement of "It's me" is a statement that can also be translated, "I am." What comes to mind with that statement of "I am" are the words that were once spoken to Moses when God appeared to him. "God said to Moses, 'I am. I am the one who is,' and 'You should say this to the Israelites: The one who says 'I am' has sent me to you,'" (Exodus 3:14). Some Old Testament scholars have translated the name of God of "I am, I am the one who is" as "I am here, I certainly am." Even here too, the Christ, who tread the raging sea with it under his feet, had spoken with those words to his disciples. "Peace. I am here. I certainly am. Do not be afraid." Then, the church for generations has been hearing those same words.
Oh Lord, Save Me
9. Next, the story goes on to put the spotlight on one of the characters who were in the boat. It's on Peter. What we see there is the figure of you and me there as one of the people who are in the boat we know as the church.
10. In this scene not only Jesus walked on the water, but so did Peter. Along with Jesus he went walking treading the chopping seas with it under foot. He was no longer under the power of chaos. He stood as a man ruling with Jesus. That didn't come from his own courage. The main detail here is Peter seeking a word from Jesus. He began to walk because of Jesus' statement to him to "Come on." It wasn't Peter who had power. It was the Lord's word.
11. This story doesn't seem to be emphasizing that Peter was able to walk on the water. The story goes on next to say that "However, as he noticed the strong winds, he became scared and began to sink, so he shouted, 'Oh my Lord, help me.' Jesus reached out his hand immediately and grabbed him, and said, 'You weak in faith, why did you doubt?' Then when the two got on the boat, the wind quieted. Those on the boat said, 'Truly, you are the son of God' and worshipped Jesus," (verses thirty through thirty-three).
12. So, any way you want to put it, the emphasis seems to be that Peter was sinking. Peter noticed the strong winds. Fear capsized Peter. That's when he began to sink into the water. If you've ever read the figure of Peter walking on the water and even if you were hardly familiar with scripture, the Bible seems to feel at home to you all at once when it comes to Peter's sinking. What did this Peter so much like us do? He shouted. "Oh Lord, help me." Then it says in the text that "Jesus reached out his hand immediately and grabbed him..." Peter did not cling to the arm of Jesus. Jesus grabbed Peter. He grabbed him firm so as not to let him sink into the sea. Man sinks. But, Jesus doesn't. The hinge point is not that Peter started sinking, but that the unsinkable Jesus had firmly grasped him.
13. Then the one and only Lord, as he grasped a hold of him, said, "You weak in faith, why did you doubt?" While he looked at the sinking Peter, he didn't say "Because your faith is weak, because you doubt, that is why you are sinking."
14. The Lord used the word "doubt." This means that the heart is divided between two directions. Peter's heart certainly was split at that moment, at that instant. On the one side, he was directed towards Jesus and his words, on the other side, he was directed towards the strong winds and the chopping sea. Of course, he was in agreement with what Jesus was saying. But, how about at the moment when Peter started sinking? How was it when he shouted, "Oh Lord, help me!?" He didn't need to doubt. He needn't be concerned with the wind and waves. He must have turned to Jesus single mindedly, reached out and shouted. Then and there the heart that was split in two must have become one again. That's what I think.
15. "Oh Lord. Help me." -- If translated literally, this would be the phrase "Oh Lord, save me." From ancient times, this phrase has been the words of a prayer repeated countless times by Christians in their individual lives and in worship offered up together. The faith life of a later period is obviously overlapped in the picture of this scene. (Thus, we find the words, "They said, 'Truly you are the son of God,' and they worshipped Jesus." This is a confession of faith that expresses Jesus as the son of God.)
16. Thus, the truly important thing for us is not that he reprimand us with the words, "You weak in faith, why did you doubt?" We don't need to scold ourselves to action by saying "I don't have enough faith. I shouldn't have doubted. To keep from sinking, I should never doubt. I must have unwavering faith." That's not it. Just as generations of believers have done, we are to admit that we are sinking just as we are and we need to pray, "Oh Lord, save me." We are to pray steadfastly. What really has turning point significance is not whether we have undoubting, unwavering faith. That's not the point; the point is that treading upon the sea there is One who says to us, "Peace. It's me. Do not be afraid." And that he who never sinks will "stretch out his hand immediately and grasp" us.