Like last Sunday’s gospel, we have a miracle of Jesus to ponder– His walking on the water–from Matthew 14. Last weekend we thought about Matthew 17’s Transfiguration Story. It was “the peek at the peak.” Now we have “what one sees on the sea.”
Let’s examine this sea miracle by going verse by verse, verse part by verse part….
Matthew 14:22a says: “He, (Jesus) made the disciples get into the boat and precede him (via the Galilean Sea) to the other side (presumably, we are talking a distance of several miles due west around the shoreline. So the disciples figured he’d come later by the good shoreline road)…. Matthew 14:22b says: “He remained and dismissed the crowds.” (They figure how the plan is that He will meet them later at this arranged place at Gennesaret, which is halfway to Magdala from where they are.) …
Matthew 14:23 “Then He, (Jesus), went up on the mountain by himself to pray.” The disciples figure that Jesus has a few reasons to get alone. First, He will purposely avoid the crowds after that day’s miracle of the feeding of the five thousand. Some apostles guess that Jesus won’t want the crowds to re-direct His ministry to that of popular wonder-worker or a political-power-figure Messiah, due to the fame of that miracle. They know Jesus is on a specific and humble mission. He takes prayer breaks often to keep on track with His Mission.
Secondly, though, the apostles know how Jesus needs a break. In Matthew 13 and 14’s text preceding this moment in His ministry, Matthew the apostle has just observed how the Lord has met clear rejection and offense, such as in an account in returning to Jesus’ home town of Nazareth, where they belittled their Nazarene brother Jesus and His family. It wasn’t pretty. On top of that, knowing He’d never be welcome back to His home town, nor be able to have visits with Mother Mary there, now Jesus has just got word of the news of cousin John the Baptist being executed by beheading. Of course Jesus needed time alone to pray…
Matthew 14:23b says “When it was evening He was there alone.” Evidently, Jesus was in some high-up place where He could see the apostles rowing the boat out to sea. So He has His eye on them, but is alone praying… Matthew 14:24 says “Meanwhile the boat (with the apostles in it), already a few miles offshore,
was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it.” As Jesus could see the situation from His vantage point, He noticed that a sudden squall coming which would kick up shallow-shored Galilee into high waves. He watched over those apostles in the boat from afar, looking to when He would be definitely needed, but also He would be spiritually observing if His trusted followers would exercise some faith in their troubling situation. Jesus kept praying with the Father… and the Father probably said to Him: THEY HAVE SOME FEAR IN THEM, EVEN AFTER WITNESSING THE AMAZING BREAD AND FISHES MIRACLE, BUT THEY ARE TRYING TO HAVE FAITH. YET, THEY CANNOT SEE YOU. THEY FEEL A BIT ALONE OUT THERE IN THEIR STORMY SEA.
Now we move on to Matthew 14: verse 25, which says: “During the fourth watch of the night…” (which is the end of the night before the dawn’s early streams of light would come, like our 3 a.m. or 4 a.m.) “…He came toward them… (this was because of His love for them and their need of Him, but also in this case, Jesus knew how The Father wanted Him now to reveal another great miracle to them, and to give them an added understanding to His identity as the Blessed Son. ‘The new miracle? It would be His walking on the sea. Jesus exercised faith in His Person, in the Father, and He took His steps on top of the sea. Despite the wind, He made good time in reaching the spot where the disciples were, as verse 24b pre-described), “in the boat being tossed about by the waves …”
(Here comes the miracle part now, in what they see on the sea, verse 26) “…The disciples saw Him walking on the sea.” (Yes, it was startling, and amazing, and bit too powerful and godly for them, so) …they were terrified. “It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear. At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” (That is what verses 26 and 27 say.)
The second part of the miracle story will be of Simon Peter’s walking out on the water, via the bidding of Jesus, Who said “Come” to him, (meaning, in direct words, if it gives you the proof you need in knowing that it IS I, and that this miracle IS real, then walk out and participate in it, Peter). Peter does come out of the boat and out of some fear, and co-walks on the water for a time. It’s real, alright, the other apostles see!
What did they all see on the sea? The divine identity of Jesus. He is the Lord of all miracles. He IS LORD. In verse 33b, they conclude with “truly you are the Son of God.”
Application: This is a Miracle Story, yet it can also be applied to our own lives and stories, even in the ordinary flow and ebb of things in our days.
What can we take from it today? What do you see by the sea in Matthew 14, out there on the Galilee?
Maybe the boat has felt somewhat like this parish, going through its things lately, or maybe its a bigger boat, like our nation or world feeling stormy and causing fears… maybe it’s an uncomfortable relationship situation that you are afraid is turning overboard and capsizing, or maybe it’s a family thing, or school thing, or a health thing that has you on stormy seas.
And where is Jesus in all of this? Does He care to help us out of it?
He’s not in the boat in this miracle story, though they don’t realize that He IS watching them and in prayer with the Father for them, and ready to act in their behalf. Jesus will make it a faith-growth moment. Miracles are not just for wonders, they come for some reasons from God and with purposes not just for OUR emergency rescue, but for teaching us how to live in communion with God from our soul-place or our community place. You have come to know this, right?
This Matthew 14-gospel version of a sea storm story differs from another one, when Jesus will be inside the boat with the apostles, though He is asleep in the stern, when a similar squall hits them and rocks the vessel. That other account is in Luke 8:22-25. But, at least, Jesus was right there visible in the boat with them. They just had to nudge Him to wake Him up to handle the storm.
Not in this sea storm account of Matthew. Jesus is not right there with them. He’s on shore and out of sight of them. They feel left alone and pretty defenseless. Even with a few experienced fishermen on board, this squall was a scary one.
So in applying it, we can relate to the difference when Jesus feels like he’s right there in the boat, so to say, with us, to when He is not in the boat, and how one can doubt the Lord’s presence and readiness to help.
Yet what of the times you did practice faith and took a step forward in your faith? That felt good, didn’t it? ‘You want that faith force in you, by God’s Grace and Spirit, right? Again and again?!
An application for here at Resurrection parish, is that you’ve had some tests to your faith, but some of you have come through without being overcome by fear or lack of faith. You’re handling things. Maybe the miracle there is of your strength, the depth of your faith, your community spirit. Or, for any other tests going on for others, is has you looking for Jesus. I have a friend my age who has suddenly lost his voice. He’s been through other things where He has seen the Lord of deliverance for him, but this situation is tough. His voice had been raspy of late, but now is just about all gone. Imagine what he’s going through. His prayers: Jesus– I need you. Lord, save me.
Jesus saves even when we do not notice. He is doing things to your favor, whether you see them, or not. Last Friday at 8:45 p.m., I drove in the windy rain down Old Columbia Pike to pick up an order from the Caribbean restaurant at Briggs Chaney. As I went with the green light, towards the lot turn-in, I suddenly saw three kids run out in the road right into my path. They had not seen me, obviously, or would not have run in front of my Jeep vehicle. The rain and the dark led to very-poor misjudgment on their part, anxious to get across the road to the 7-11 which they sought to visit. I hadn’t seen them dashing into the road, at first, but, when I suddenly did, I braked hard and turned my vehicle away to avoid hitting the young jaywalkers. No traffic accident happened. Praise God, and I mean, Praise God. As I very well could have, in that storm. If I had hit them, then what injuries would they had suffered, or would even a fatality had resulted?! It was in the realm of possibility there. But I had seen them, keeping attentive to my driving in those conditions. What if I had that accident, and it was bad? Could I have continued my new work here among you in our renewal at Resurrection? I am just so grateful I saw the kids. I met them later and gave them lots of money for future 7-11 runs, and they wondered “why for, sir?” I said for your guardian angels and mine keeping us out of an accident. They said: “What accident?” I said: “The one with you almost winding up in my Jeep grill.” I told them to “wait for the light and to be much more cautious ahead.” So there was a situation I know God watched out for me, somehow.
But some people get caught in troubling things that so can affect us. It can hurt us and shut us down. I saw a sibling in pain at a funeral this past week. This person was the adult child of the deceased, but they would not talk to their siblings or nieces or nephews or relatives, and sat alone in pain and isolation. I did all I could to be kind to them, and I offered my future assistance “to handle all your going through here.”
Sometimes we minister to people even out of our pain and loss. I think of our parish member called home last week, Ginny Bouvier, and she showed such faith and inner strength living through her lupus in life, and going into a career/vocation of aiding peace processes with her ardent work, even while seeing so much human misery and tragedy, like in her work down in the country of Columbia. She helped the people there get out an inner war versus themselves, and when the Columbian President won the Nobel Prize for Peace, Ginny had a big part in it.
Jesus does today’s miracle on the water out of his pain of rejection at Nazareth, making visits to Mary much harder ahead and having no one believe upon Him where He master-carpentered for years as a Nazarene neighbor. Then He gets the news of John the Baptist’s cruel and hideous execution. Yet Jesus will minister to His apostles, coming off the mount of prayer and walking to help His dear, fledging friends on sea. Sometimes, amazingly, like Jesus, we find love to share even of our pain.
What do we see on the sea in this miracle story? We see a caring Jesus. A human Jesus. A Jesus Who does want His apostles to live by faith, not by convenience. A Jesus Who wants His followers to finally see more deeply of Who He really is: The Lord and Savior. The Deliverer. The Redeemer. The caring intercession of a Loving God Almighty.
He knows our fears and other problems and about our stormy seas. Can we see that every day life on this planet is broken and fairly desperate if people are to ignore God? Do we confess to God we need Him– daily? Do we realize Jesus prays for us, even as our Lamb of God, to take away our sins– if we’d just admit them and surrender them to Him? Do we realize that the times that we have been like Peter, and tried to exercise some stronger faith– that Jesus is really moved by those moments of trust in Him?
We may not know how to walk on water— but we are engaged in the miraculous, whether we see it or not. It’s there. These two Summer Sundays of miracle stories tell us that God is at work on you being the miracle–becoming a child of God and someone welcome to His victory supper table in Glory one day. Eat and sup with Him here, He is in this boat of a parish, and He is miracle with us. See that by faith on this sea called the Summer of 2017.