’Those in the boat worshipped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”’
‘If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat’ – John Ortberg.
Today’s Gospel is set in a difficult time for Jesus who, after hearing of the death of his relative John the Baptist, seeks some time for himself, presumably to mourn. However, the crowds follow him and are hungry, so Jesus has compassion on them and the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand takes place – in reality more, as this figure would not include women and children. Afterwards, Jesus again seeks time to himself as he sends the disciples on ahead in a boat and dismisses the crowd, going up the mountain to pray. How hard it must have been for Jesus to find time for his own needs with so many demands constantly being made of him. That can often be so for us, too.
However, a storm has blown up on Lake Galilee and, early in the morning, Jesus goes to his disciples but, when they see him walking on the sea, they are understandably terrified and think it’s a ghost. As he comforts them, Peter tests him and says, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus tells him, “Come.” Peter does begin to walk on the sea towards him but is then overcome by fear of the wind and cries to Jesus to save him. Jesus does so, with the famous words applied to many situations where events overcome initiative: “O ye of little faith, why did you doubt?”
That may seem harsh, given Peter’s initial brave response in such awful conditions. But they both get into the boat and the wind ceases – Jesus comes to those who stayed in the boat too and they then acknowledge him to be the Son of God. Although they have remained in the relative safety of the vessel, they have seen the five loaves and two fish feed so many and now even the winds and waves obey Jesus. Creation is subject to him and they begin to worship him as they realise who is with them and that what they thought was a ghost is their living Lord.
Peter was literally stepping out in faith initially whereas the other disciples remained in the boat and, as Ortberg’s book suggests, courage is required to leave the safe and familiar if new ways are to be experienced. Peter had that courage at first, but was then overcome by fear whereas the eleven others remained in the boat to handle it and survive the storm. There are times for all of us when, like Peter, we may have to step out in faith but that can sometimes be hard to maintain. Perhaps, like the other disciples, we might choose to remain where we are and get on with what needs doing. That can also take as much courage – it can be as hard to persevere in the face of adversity – and the numbers of asylum seekers risking their lives in overcrowded boats today in hope of a better future bears testimony to this. With news that 6 more illegal immigrants have died in an overloaded boat which sank in the Channel, that over 100,000 people have come to the UK in this way since 2018 and with 39 migrants being moved off the Bibby Stockholm barge due to Legionella bacteria being found in the water supply, deciding whether to go forth or to stay put is a difficult choice to make.
These are complex matters – things about which we’re afraid may come back to haunt us in the storms of life and facing our fears is not easy. Whether inside the boat that is the church, the ark of salvation, or stepping out in faith like Peter, Jesus’s words speak to us too as we face the issues of our day and the stormy winds of change as did his followers then: “Take heart, it is I: do not be afraid!”
With my prayers; pob bendith,