The account of Jesus walking on water, which is the Gospel Reading for the Sunday of Proper 14 (Matthew 14:22-33) is also recorded in Mark 6:47-52 and John 6:16-26. The writers make a connection between this miracle and that of feeding of five thousand people.
Many people have asked the question: Did Jesus actually walk on the Sea of Galilee or is this story a resurrection appearance to Peter? Or could it be a reflection of the early church in a time of persecution? Still others wonder if the translation “walking on the sea” could be translated “walking by the sea”. Indeed, the Greek preposition epi in the phrase – “peripaton epi ten thalassan” can render the phrase, “walking upon, over, on, at, near, by, the sea”, depending on context Still, some wonder if what we have is a pious legend just as others accept it without reservations.
Nevertheless, the thrust of the story is Peter (and the rest of the disciples) and the storm. Jesus told them to get on the boat. Jesus encouraged Peter to walk on the water. This means that the church as a community of believers and the faithful do face storms or moments of crisis.
From time to time the early church faced persecution. Today we need to think of the minority indigenous Christians, especially in the Middle East. In Iraq Christians face forced conversion to Islam or expulsion. The church in the West is silent, primarily because the West, with the church’s collusion, directly or indirectly created the chaos there.
Coptic Christians in Egypt similarly face persecution from time to time and in West’s ally nations like Saudi Arabia, practicing any faith other than Islam is illegal. These are storms in the church today.
In the Gospel story, Jesus reaches out his hand and grabs Peter. He is still doing that today, stretching his hand to rescue the faithful from the crises of life.
We make a note too that Peter started sinking when he shifted his attention from Jesus to the storm. The text says in verse 24 that the boat was battered by waves because the wind was strong. Then in verse 30, as Peter was walking toward Jesus, he saw the wind, was afraid and started sinking.
Could the wind have been stronger this time than when he started? May be, or may be not. He did not start sinking because of the wind, but because he was afraid. He was afraid because he shifted his attention from Jesus to the wind. Indeed, we can weather the weather if we can muster our fears. And we can muster our fears if we focus on Jesus instead of the crises we may be facing. The crises become bigger and bigger as we concentrate our attention on them.
With Jesus we muster the storms.