Matthew 14:23b-33 When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (NRSV)
I wrote about this story yesterday too. I think this story has a lot more to say, so I am writing about it again today. If you haven’t read yesterday’s post yet, be sure to scroll back at the bottom of the page and read it now.
From the earliest days, Christian themed art has represented the church as a boat. A boat is a vessel that ferries its occupants from one place to another across the trackless sea. No two boats follow exactly the same path, Thanks to changing weather and sea currents, even when there are fairly well established routes. Likewise the Church ‘ferries’ its ‘occupants’ from this world to the next and each church has to chart its own course, even while following a well established tradition. While it is a limited image, it does work well in some ways. A seaworthy craft is a safe haven in a storm. It might be a rough ride, but more often than not, a sound boat makes it through. Modern machinery has changed the way the crew operates, but in the days of sail, all hands were needed in stormy seas.
So think about it, Jesus was coming to help the disciples manage the boat in the storm. And in fact, once Jesus was in the boat again, the storm ceased. So in that case, Peter’s testing (unbelief) only delayed the Lord’s arrival in the boat and the subsequent relief from the storm. Maybe we are not necessarily meant to be so admiring of Peter. Peter’s doubt and his reaction takes on a flavor of ‘grandstanding’ and just gets in the way. In this way of thinking, we are urged to get on with believing and doing the work of being Church.
On the other hand, Jesus had sent the disciples on ahead without him. We are the Church, sent by Jesus to go ahead ‘without him’ (although he is really never away…we ARE the body of Christ in the world after all, following in his footsteps, doing what he did). And though the boat/Church is tossed about, there is no danger of sinking because the Lord is watching, knows our situation. The Church, big C, is all the faithful who live the life of Christ. The Church has always survived societal changes and the changes that created the institution of church, little c. I think it is important to recognize the Church and the church overlap, but are two different entities, and don’t have all the same people. Jesus is outside the boat/church as well as in it, within the disciples (even though they don’t KNOW it yet…). Sometimes we (the church) act as if Jesus can only be found ‘inside’ the church. We do well to recognize that Jesus is already “there”, with God’s people outside the church. We have the opportunity to also accept Jesus’ invitation to meet him outside of the church, to meet the unchurched where they are, to find those who suffer and be a blessing not just to each other, but to all of God’s people.
In the early years, the Church was tossed about by storms of persecution. There were people who believed that such persecutions were a sign that the Lord had abandoned them and that there would be no peace until the return of Christ in the final days. That makes this storm in our story an apocalypse story. The message is, the promise of Christ’s return was sure, even though it would come in as unlikely a way as Jesus walking across the sea.
These layers of meaning are part of what makes the gospel stories so very powerful. There is not just one way to hear them and not just one right message to get out of them. Enjoy pondering and praying over the text. You will discover which meaning you most need for today.
blessings to you,
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.