Year A: Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Walking on the Water
Matthew 14: 22-33
After he had fed the people, Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening, he was there alone. Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. “It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear. At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how [strong] the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” After they got into the boat, the wind died down. Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”
- What are the “storms in life” that cause you fear, and how do you experience God with you in the storm?
- Share a time when your faith in Jesus’ presence enabled you to accept, or do something you would otherwise have been afraid of?
- In your experience, what is the difference between having courage and faith?
- How are you doing with recognizing and accepting explicit and subtle invitations to step out of “the boat”, or your comfort zone in faith? Can you share an example?
Matthew 14: 22-33
Sr. Mary McGlone CSJ
Doesn’t it seem a little harsh that Jesus would call Peter out as “you of little faith” when the other disciples did nothing more than hang on for dear life in their stormbattered boat? The interchange between Jesus and Peter is unique to Matthew and offers a meditation on Peter’s discipleship.
When Jesus first called Peter and his brother, he told them to follow him to become fishers of men. Now in this incident, there’s a carefully recorded dialogue. At the sound of inchoate cries from frightened fishermen, Jesus calls out, “Take courage! It is I, do not be afraid!” “Take courage” is the same thing Jesus said to the paralytic when he told him his sins were forgiven and to the woman who touched his cloak for healing (Matthew 9:2; 9-22). It really means “Rejoice.”
Why rejoice? Because Jesus says “It is I.” No student of Scripture can fail to recognize that phrase as an echo of the many “I am” statements we hear in John. (The Greek wording is exactly the same.) On one hand, Jesus is assuring them that he’s not a phantom. On another level, he is telling them that he, the Jesus they just left on shore, is the one who is there.
At an even deeper level, coming close to calling himself by the proper name of God, he declares that he is there for them.
Those layers of meaning give context to Peter’s reply, “If it is you, command me to come.” It doesn’t seem probable that Peter is saying “Prove this is no fantasy.” For that, he could have simply said, “Pinch me.” No, Peter was entering into a realm more mysterious than ghostly appearances. The simplest and most challenging interpretation is that Peter was saying, “Let me come to you and be like you.” If so, that was a moment of blinding faith. Peter understood momentarily, that discipleship means walking like the Master, no matter how impossible it seems.
What sank Peter was his doubt, although the translation “wavering” probably offers a more appropriate explanation. A rather visual definition of the Greek word for doubt, distazo, says that it means to stand in two ways. Peter got caught between noticing the strength of the wind and the power of Jesus’ invitation. The wind and waves took their toll, but only until he called out for help.
A wonderful thing about this incident is that it’s not a success story. It’s a salvation narrative. This story speaks of the courage necessary for discipleship. It’s okay to be frightened in a storm. It’s downright heroic to risk stepping out of the boat and into the raging waters. Most of all, when self-confidence has dangerously overstepped its limits, the ability to call for and receive help is the real sign of faith.
The soggy Peter who got back in the boat was both humbled and empowered. He had learned, not for the last time, the truth that God’s power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
If we use today’s readings as a guide to discernment about our times, we may decide to choose Peter as our patron of audacious attempts. Today’s tempests include the lack or loss of faith in our families and society as well as the intolerable violence and injustice that plague our world. We can hide from them or heed the voice that whispers or shouts, “Take courage! Rejoice!” Elijah allowed himself to be drawn from hiding in the cave, and Peter leapt into the depths that only Jesus could help him navigate.
The world needs witnesses willing to risk trying to walk like the Master, people whose way of living entices others to faith, people who continue in the struggle to proclaim the validity of Gospel values in spite of countervailing winds. We surely won’t triumph with every attempt, but this is about salvation, not success.
God’s Strong and Faithful Hand
By Pope Francis