READ: Matthew 14:22-36
22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.
23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone,
24 but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them.
25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea.
26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, It is a ghost! and they cried out in fear.
27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.
28 And Peter answered him, Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.
29 He said, Come. So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus.
30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, Lord, save me.
31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, O you of little faith, why did you doubt?
32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.
33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, Truly you are the Son of God.
34 And when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret.
35 And when the men of that place recognized him, they sent around to all that region and brought to him all who were sick
36 and implored him that they might only touch the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well.
The text says that immediately after Jesus fed the 5000 he sent the disciples away in the boat. Now, in those days “immediately” could mean just about anything from “right away” to “later that day”. Jesus came walking on the water during the "fourth watch" of the night. The ancient Hebrews only divided their night into three parts (evening, midnight, morning). Once Rome took over the fourth watch was apparently added as a division, based on their military practice of changing guards four times a night to keep them sharp in the middle of the night. The fourth watch was the time just before dawn.
I’d like to imply something here and see if it makes sense. We know from yesterday’s reading that it was late in the day when Jesus dismissed the crowd. Since you’d be pretty much of a fool to set off in a boat at night, it can’t have been the disciples’ intention to be out there at night. My guess is they were figuring on a relatively short run back to the safe harbor of Capernaum. They were sailing toward the sunset that day, and may have figured they could make it by dark. (Text message from Peter to wife: “I should be home for dinner”)
So now it is five in the morning and the wind has been against you all night. You’ve been rowing when you should have been able to just have a pleasure sail across the short end of the lake. You are wet, cold, and really, really tired. That’s when you see… a ghost. What is your natural response?
I think the disciples were about to do what the crew of the boat Jonah was in did: they were about to revert to the pagan beliefs of the day and ask the question “who has sinned here that we are about to drown? We need to throw someone overboard to appease the gods.” Peter is doing quite a brave thing here by offering to be the sacrifice to the god of the sea. I don’t know how much confidence Peter had when he stepped out of the boat that this really was Jesus, but I think he reasoned that if someone didn’t go whatever the apparition was would come and get them all.
Peter steps out of the boat, and for a moment everything is great. That’s when Peter looks down and actually realizes he’s walking on water.
So here’s the thing I find really amazing that I hadn’t seen until this reading: Peter starts by saying to Jesus, “IF it is you… command me to come to you on the water.” Contrast that statement with Peter, after the resurrection, in a boat, seeing the risen Christ on the shore and saying to John, “It is the Lord…”
Peter didn’t know, know, KNOW that this was Jesus when he stepped out of the boat. This was one of those moments anyone has with Jesus when they think he’s asking them to do something, but aren’t quite sure it is he. We reason that nothing is gained if nothing is ventured. It isn’t until Peter is out on the water that faith comes into play. It isn’t even in Peter WALKING on the water that faith is exercised, since he’s merely obeying what the Jesus he can see right in front of him asked him to do. The faith comes in when Peter realizes he’s walking on water and then, despite the evidence of his own eyes, he begins to sink.
“This isn’t how this is supposed to go,” Peter reasons. “Jesus called me to walk to him. I’m merely obeying what I was asked to do. The water should hold me up all the way until I’m safe in his arms and can VERIFY that this is Jesus.”
Why then is he sinking? Because, as Jesus says to the disciples later on, Peter is a man of little faith indeed. Peter really wants things to operate according to the way he expects they will. The moment he begins to exercise faith is the moment he sinks and cries out, “Lord, save me!” without any verification that this really is Jesus.
Pastoral Relief and Retreat
- Wethersfield, CT, United States
- I am Pastor at Poquonock Community Church, Congregational (CCCC) in Windsor, CT. My wife Jama and I live in Wetherfield, CT. We'd like to invite you to Terre Haute -- High Ground -- That's what Jama and I call the retreat space on our property. We offer free intentional get-away retreats. We'll feed you and house you and give you space to be with the Lord. All are welcome; no questions asked. This blog is my daily devotional journal. I write it because it is so easy to go for weeks without ever taking the time to be alone with God. Writing helps me develop a discipline I need.