This Gospel is certainly one of the more action-filled, gripping events in the lives of Jesus and his Apostles. You have to love a Gospel story and readings where the imagery of our relationship with the Lord is so strong in both message and effect. I offer for your spiritual pondering a couple of those images.
First, I get asked at times if God will test us in some way, to find out if our faith is solid or weak. I answer that it may be the case. But any testing, if there is any, if not for the Lord to gain any knowledge about what’s going on inside of us. Any testing, for those who see their relationship with God in such a way, is for the purpose of deepening our present faith. Remember, the most natural path of our faith in Christ is the path of deepening, whereas the most unnatural path is that of weakening.
So, is Jesus testing the Apostles when, at the start of this Gospel, he sends them in a boat – by themselves – to the other side of the pond? Actually, the Sea of Galilee is a large body of water with a geographical setting where the wind and storms can come out of nowhere and take a boatload of Apostles by surprise. Is Jesus testing them by sending them out there on their own, knowing that Peter and Andrew, James and John are experienced fishermen who are comfortable on the seas? Is the Lord doing this to test if they will go to the other side without him, or is he offering them the chance to walk away from him?
Legitimate questions, but they miss the greater point. The greater point, that still resonates today, is that any type of separation from Christ, be it momentary or for years on end, is fraught with danger. We are not to travel this journey across the sea alone, and the Lord on his part makes certain he does not leave our corpses floating in the water. And that takes trust. One of the more fundamental parts of our faith in Jesus is that we trust he is always beside us, especially when it feels like he isn’t.
I don’t think Jesus was testing the 12 to see if they would leave him. If that thought was in his mind, he would have asked them straight out, “Do you want to leave?” The same way he does to them in the Bread of Life discourse in John, chapter 6. So, this image of separation from the Lord while crossing the storm-filled events of our lives, are events of trusting more than testing. The test may or may not be there for us, depending on how each of us sees this part of our spiritual lives, but trusting in his abiding presence is the greater image here.
And second, there’s the image of the rescue of Peter outside the boat, and the rest of them inside the boat. One is sinking, the others are getting battered by waves.
Remember the Old Testament story of the golden calf, where God said to Moses, “You better head back down the mountain old man, because they’re in a state of revelry and profound sinfulness?” The movement of that famous story, the movement of Moses coming to the rescue before it’s too late, it mirrors the movement of Jesus in this Gospel. While praying on the mountain alone, the Father must have said to the Son, “Beloved Son, this prayer session needs to be interrupted so you can catch up to the 12 in their boat and save them from the approaching storm. And you’re gonna have to walk on water to catch up to them.”
This image of rescue is twofold: first, that God loves us so much, that he will do the impossible for us when we need it most, such as walking on water. I’m sure Jesus has walked on water for us many times, saving us with his mercy and forgiveness. This is a tough image, though. The impossible part of Jesus catching up to them while walking on water happens before death occurs to the 12. He literally saves their physical lives. God still needs them for the building up of his future Church. For us, the seemingly impossible of gaining a sense of peace and comfort may come to us after the death of someone we know and love. That’s an example of Jesus saving us from the weakening of our faith as a result of the loss of a loved one.
And second, this image of rescue shows the essential importance of remaining in the Church. The boat is the Church. There are cultural storms that continually batter the Church. The definition of God-sanctioned marriage is one of them today, the definition of which is found in Matthew, chapter 19, where Jesus is very clear on what constitutes Marriage.
The boat is the Church. Peter leaves the boat. Why does he feel the need to leave the boat to get to Jesus? Jesus is already coming to them. Peter doesn’t need to try to show off, do a dance in the endzone, and upstage the rest of them. The image of staying in the boat, which is big enough for every person God created, cannot be overstated.
Many have left the boat, thinking they can walk on water. We’re not ducks. Human beings were not made to walk on water. Stay in the big boat where it’s safe with her solid teachings, because outside the boat we’ll find human ideologies that will destroy our faith in Jesus Christ.
And, do not be afraid to invite others back to the boat where they belong. This is called evangelization. By doing so, you may do the impossible like Christ; help save a soul from sinking in the deep.
It is a fascinating and gripping event on the high seas of northern Israel. Is the Lord testing them by sending them across the sea alone, to see if they will leave? Or, is trusting in his presence the greater image and statement? And, the rescue. He’s already done the impossible rescue of defeating death for our future benefit. In his love for us he will continue to do lesser impossible things than Resurrection, for nothing is greater than an empty tomb. And the message is always, “Stay in the boat. It is good that we are here.”