The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
The Rev. George Pejakovich
Matthew 14:22-33

IN 1969, IN VIETNAM, I WAS SUDDENLY REASSIGNED FROM ANOTHER INFANTRY COMPANY TO BRAVO COMPANY. THE UNIT WAS ABOUT TO MOVE OUT ON AN EXTENDED OPERATION IN THE MOUNTAINS AND THE COMMANDER CAME DOWN WITH MALARIA, SO I WAS RUSHED INTO COMMAND. THE MEN DIDN’T KNOW ME, BUT THEY HAD HEARD I WAS A WEST POINTER, SO THEY WERE SOMEWHAT SULLEN AND SUSPICIOUS; NOT KNOWING ME AND HOW I WOULD TREAT THEM. AS WE MOVED OUT ACROSS THE RICE PADDIES TO GET TO THE MOUNTAINS, WE HAD TO FORD A LITTLE STREAM WITH THE WATER ABOUT THIGH DEEP. AS THE MEN WERE FORDING SINGLE FILE, I MOVED OFF TO THE SIDE, KNELT DOWN, PULLED OUT MY MAP, AND LIT A CIGARETTE (YES, I SMOKED CIGARETTES AT THE TIME). SURE OF OUR POSITION, I TUCKED MY MAP IN MY SHIRT, STOOD UP, AND STEPPED INTO THE STREAM AT AN ANGLE FROM WHERE THE MEN WERE CROSSING; RIGHT INTO A BUFFALO WALLOW, WHICH WAS ABOUT 12 FEET DEEP. THE ONLY THING WHICH KEPT ME FROM DROWNING WAS THE AIR TRAPPED IN MY HELMET. AS I CLIMBED OUT COVERED IN WEEDS AND BUFFALO DUNG, WITH MY CIGARETTE PLASTERED ALONG SIDE MY NOSE, A HUNDRED AND TWENTY PAIRS OF EYES STARED AT ME. I STOOD UP STRAIGHT, PEELED THE CIGARETTE OFF MY NOSE, AND SAID, “DANG! AT WEST POINT THEY TOLD ME I COULD WALK ON THAT STUFF.” THE ROARS OF LAUGHTER ECHOED OFF THE MOUNTAINS.

OF ALL THE MIRACLES OF JESUS, HIS WALKING ON WATER IS THE MOST INEXPLICABLE. VARIOUS MUNDANE THEORIES OF HOW HE FED THE FIVE THOUSAND AND HOW HE HEALED THE SICK HAVE BEEN OFFERED TO DISPUTE THE MIRACULOUS ELEMENT. ATTEMPTS TO EXPLAIN HOW JESUS WALKED ON THE WATER ALL ARE EVEN MORE UNBELIEVABLE THAN THE EVENT ITSELF. ONE GEOLOGIST RECENTLY OFFER THE THEORY OF A SUDDEN FREEZING OF THE LAKE; AN EVENT ONCE IN 10,000 YEARS. NO ONE CAN WALK ON WATER; YET, JESUS DID, WHICH EXPLAINS THE REACTION OF THE DISCIPLES, AND THE WORDS OF PETER.

JESUS HAD JUST FED A VAST NUMBER OF PEOPLE, AND, AS NIGHT WAS FALLING, HE SENT THE DISCIPLES ON AHEAD IN THE BOAT, WHILE HE DISMISSED THE CROWD AND WENT OFF TO PRAY. UNLIKE THE LAST TIME IN A STORM, WHEN JESUS WAS IN THE BOAT ASLEEP, THEY WERE IN NO DANGER OF SINKING; BUT THEY WERE BEING BEATEN BY AN ADVERSE WIND WHICH KEPT THEM FROM THE SHORE. THEY FOUGHT THE WIND AND WAVES ALL NIGHT LONG, UNTIL, ABOUT THREE IN THE MORNING, THEY SAW THE FIGURE OF A MAN WALKING ON THE SEA. SINCE NO MAN CAN WALK ON WATER, AND THE JEWS ASSOCIATED THE WILDNESS OF THE SEA WITH CHAOS, THEY THOUGHT HE WAS SOME KIND OF GHOST OR EVIL SPIRIT. WHEN THEY CRIED OUT IN FEAR, WHAT JESUS SAID TO THEM IS VERY IMPORTANT. THE MODERN TRANSLATION AGAIN MISSES THE POINT. JESUS SAID, “TAKE HEART! I AM. DO NOT BE AFRAID.” HE CLEARLY IDENTIFIED HIMSELF WITH THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, ISSAC, AND JACOB; THE GOD WHO IDENTIFIED HIMSELF TO MOSES AS I AM.

WHAT HAPPENED NEXT IS USUALLY INTERPRETED AS AN EXERCISE IN PETER’S FAITH, AND IT’S FALTERING WHEN PETER TAKES HIS EYES FROM JESUS. IT CAN BE THOUGHT OF THAT WAY, BUT IT IS MUCH MORE. PETER’S REQUEST IS REALLY A TEST OF JESUS. “LORD, IF IT IS YOU, COMMAND ME TO COME TO YOU ON THE WATER,” IS THE SAME AS THE TEMPTER’S TEST OF, “IF YOU ARE THE SON OF GOD,” PROVE IT. THE SAME AS THE MOCKING OF THE CROWD; “IF YOU ARE THE MESSIAH, SAVE YOURSELF.” PETER WAS NOT SURE THAT THE APPARITION BEFORE HIM WAS JESUS, IN SPITE OF HEARING THE GREAT I AM; FOR ALL HE KNEW IT COULD STILL BE A GHOST. PETER NEITHER TOOK HEART NOR SET HIS FEAR ASIDE IN THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD OF CREATION, SO JESUS CURTLY COMMANDED HIM TO “COME!”

WHEN PETER STEPPED OUT OF THE BOAT ONTO THE SEA, HE HAD COME TO A TENTATIVE BELIEF, BUT HAD NOT COME TO A REAL TRUST IN THE ONE WHO CALLED HIM. WHEN HIS TRUST FALTERED, HE BEGAN TO SINK, AND CRIED OUT WHAT WE ALL MUST CRY WHEN WE LET OUR TRUST FALTER IN THE WORD AND PROMISE OF JESUS; “LORD, SAVE ME!” THE HAND OF JESUS WAS THERE FOR HIM, BUT SO WERE HIS WORDS OF DISAPPOINTMENT IN PETER; “YOU OF LITTLE FAITH, WHY DID YOU DOUBT?” WHY DID YOU DOUBT WHEN YOU FIRST SAW ME, WHY DID YOU DOUBT WHEN I TOLD YOU NOT TO BE AFRAID BECAUSE I AM, AND WHY DID YOU DOUBT WHEN I COMMANDED YOU TO COME?

WHEN THEY CLIMBED INTO THE BOAT, NO ONE CONGRATULATED PETER ON HIS GOOD EFFORT. NO ONE CAN WALK ON WATER, EXCEPT THE ONE WHO CREATED ALL THINGS, AND JESUS JUST PROVED IT TO PETER. WHEN THEY GOT INTO THE BOAT, THE WIND DIED AND THE WAVES CALMED, AND PETER WAS FORGOTTEN. THE DISCIPLES HAD EYES ONLY FOR JESUS, AND, FOR THE FIRST TIME, THEY WORSHIPED HIM AS THE SON OF GOD.

TO INTERPRET THIS ACCOUNT SIMPLISTICALLY THAT IF YOU KEEP YOUR EYES ON JESUS YOU CAN RISK GETTING OUT OF THE BOAT TO DO EXTRAORDINARY THINGS IS WRONG. THEY WERE SENT IN THE BOAT TO MINISTER TO THE PEOPLE ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE SEA, AND, REGARDLESS OF THE DIFFICULTIES IN FIGHTING THE WIND AND WAVE, THEIR MISSION WAS TO GET TO THE OTHER SIDE. IT IS NO WONDER THAT ONE OF THE EARLIEST SYMBOLS FOR THE CHURCH WAS THAT OF A SHIP, AND THIS STORY SHOWS WHY IT WAS SO ATTRACTIVE. TOSSED AND BATTERED BY THE STORMS OF LIFE, IN THE SHIP OF THE CHURCH, WITH JESUS AND OUR FELLOW DISCIPLES, THERE IS SAFETY AND SALVATION.

THE SHIP, HOWEVER, IS NOT A STATIC SYMBOL; IT IS A MEANS OF TAKING US SOMEWHERE. JUST AS THE DISCIPLES WERE COMMANDED TO GET TO THE OTHER SIDE TO SPREAD THE GOOD NEWS OF THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN, WE ARE TO ROW THIS SHIP OF THE CHURCH TO WHERE WE CAN PROCLAIM THE GOSPEL OF OUR LORD TO OUR OWN AND EVERY LAND. WE CAN LEAVE THE WATER WALKING TO JESUS; OUR TASK IS TO GRASP OUR OARS AND ROW TOGETHER, IN SPITE OF STORMS AND STRIFE, BEARING THE GOOD NEWS OF THE KINGDOM.

WE CAN LEAVE THE WATER WALKING TO JESUS, SINCE WE ARE CALLED TO OUR MISSION OF PROCLAIMING THE KINGDOM IN THE MIDST OF THE MUNDANE WORLD. NOT FOR GREAT AND MIRACULOUS THINGS ARE WE CALLED, BUT FOR THE SIMPLE AND THE MUNDANE; TO PREACH AND TEACH THE KINGDOM, TO FEED THE HUNGRY, TO CARE FOR THE SICK, TO COMFORT THE AFFLICTED, AND TO LOVE ALL OTHERS AS CHRIST LOVES US. IN SPITE OF ALL THE BATTERING WE MIGHT RECEIVE FROM THE WORLD, OUR TASK IS TO ROW THIS SHIP OF THE CHURCH TO WHERE JESUS SENDS US.

WE CAN DO THIS WITH STRONG HEARTS AND WITHOUT FEAR, BECAUSE WE HAVE BEEN CALLED AND SENT BY THE GREAT I AM, WHOSE NAME WE KNOW AS JESUS; AND WHO IS WITH US NOW, AND WILL BE FOREVER.
AMEN

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>