Kings 19:9-13 + Psalm 85 + Romans 9: 1-5 + Matthew 14: 22-33
August 13, 2023 This homily will not be delivered during a Liturgy as I am away from Naples
There is enough going on in these verses from the Fourteenth Chapter of Matthew’s Gospel to give anyone a headache! The fact that Jesus sends the disciples off in the boat without him is a curious detail. In the meantime, he goes off to some mountain to pray just like prophets before him went up mountains to pray. The fact that the crowd has been dismissed makes it clear that what happens in these verses is something reserved for those in the boat. The crowd is not there to see it. Details tell us that they are far into the lake’s deep waters, and it is the darkest hour of the night. The seas were already calmed six chapters earlier we should not confuse the two stories. There is no sleeping Jesus this time. He comes walking on the chaotic wind-driven sea.
Matthew tells us the disciples are terrified, and there is more than one reason for their fear. The storm would be reason enough to afraid. Then, seeing someone come out of nowhere walking on stormy waters would be even more reason for terror. And yet, there is another reason that you and I would not notice since we are not Jews. That reason comes from what Jesus says to them. He speaks the name that no Jewish person would ever speak. He speaks the very name of God revealed to Moses at the burning bush. Jesus says: “I am.” In other words, suddenly, God is there. This is a profound moment and an important incident in Matthew’s gradual revelation of the identity of Jesus. They see Jesus, but now they are in the presence of God. To portray Jesus walking on the chaotic water like a conqueror is to cast him in the role of the creator-God who governs the waters. This all leads up to that final verse of today’s Gospel when the disciples do Jesus homage and declare him to truly be the Son of God. This Gospel episode is then, one more affirmation of the Divinity of Jesus for the sake of the disciples who, at this point, are of little faith. They are going to need more as the Gospel unfolds.
It is a story well told in our own times when there is so much chaos all around, when there is so much to frighten us, so much darkness, with so many sinking into the chaos. This is a story told to remind us that even though we may not recognize him, God is in our midst at the darkest of times. Yet, we are so used to depending upon ourselves, to wanting and sometimes having so much control over our lives and surroundings that when we lose it, as always happens, we sink even deeper into chaos.
We are always like Peter caught between faith and doubt, too easily frightened. Sometimes too, we are like Peter who wants to play God and walk on the water. He wants to do what only God can do. If he can walk on the water, he can abandon the boat and the people in it. That is not a good plan. So, Jesus comes and gets in the boat with them. They need to stay in the boat, which for Matthew is always a symbol of the church. If they stay in the boat through the storms, Jesus will get them to the other side.
Disciples, you and me, are not invited to walk on water in the middle of a howling storm. We are invited to stay in the boat, and it is there that we shall and should do him homage. Trying to play God is not the role of disciples. We bear witness to the presence of God in our midst even to the God we may fail to recognize.