In the name of God, loving Father, risen Son and ever present Holy Spirit. Amen
This week’s gospel takes up where last week’s ended. Jesus had withdrawn to the wilderness to pray and reflect after the death of John the Baptist. He had not been able to do that earlier as the crowd had followed him to this remote place. Instead, Jesus had ended up healing, caring, teaching and then literally feeding them through sharing the 5 loaves and 2 fish they had
At last, at the beginning of today’s reading Jesus gets some space and time, once he has dismissed the crowds and sent his disciples ahead of him in the boat they had. This example of Jesus’ praying is something we need to take to our hearts… Jesus took time to rest in the Lord’s presence as we need to do. I think Jesus is needing his soul to be restored by his loving Father God as the words of the 23rd psalm would have it. The language of restoration is common in our psalms and in the story of God’s chosen people the Israelites throughout the old testament. I am sure this in part is Jesus’ focus as he takes the time and space he needs. We can learn a lot from Jesus example at this point
Jesus is pointing to prayer as a deep and natural instinct, and one that helps us to keep going in good times and more tricky ones. Recognising when we need to pray and then doing it is important. I find the day goes better if I start and end the day with prayer, but I am also quite a fan of praying through the day – on the hoof too! Praying before encounters and after them. It helps to ground any conversation in God’s love for us before we start to talk and helps us to give to God the concerns on our hearts when we finish.
I think it is interesting that Jesus chose a mountain top to pray. What did he gain from that? Perspective and distance and space. The view from the mountain will have helped him to literally take a step back and reflect on his inner being in the context of the beautiful world God has made. Without the pressure and stress of the needs and wants of others (even his nearest and dearest disciples). Sometimes we need space to process and times to ourselves. In grieving the death of his cousin, fully human Jesus will have had the mix of emotions we have when we are grieving. He needed time for God to meet him in his grief just as we do, and all the more so in current times, where we can’t do some of the things we have hitherto taken for granted. In the uncertainty of our times it is good to have the steadying and comforting force of prayer in our lives – when so little else is steady and clear cut at the moment. There is a sense in this story that Jesus is having topsy turvey times just like ours.
In our gospel account, Jesus walks on from his mountaintop into more cut and thrust (as had been happening before he withdrew). This time it is not the crowd that needs him but his disciples. The disciples have had a rough night on the boat, far from the land with the wind against them and the waves battering the boat. In the morning light they see Jesus walking towards them on the water and their first response is fearfulness.
This is another sign or wonder that Jesus performed by walking on the water. Just as impressive as feeding so many from so little and coming from a place of concern for his disciples. He has power over the rough sea – walking on the water, which is still being whipped up by the wind. A powerful and practical demonstration of his saving love and God’s spirit in him.
Jesus says to the disciples Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid. The fear of the disciples at this point is like the fear of all us who are threatened by insecurity in the face of the unknown. At times currently, it feels like we are in the stormy boat with the disciples at the moment. This fear of the unknown has been very dominant in our coronavirus times. Not at all sure what will happen next and what our next step should, could or would be. The moving target stuff, the not knowing and one step forward and one step backward of our ‘unlocking’ at the moment. The pressure of mitigating risk and seeking the safest path in virtual every activity of our daily lives is not insignificant. Recognising the cost of all that but knowing in our hearts the saving love of Jesus will help us in the days ahead. Leaning into our faith and knowing God’s presence with us will help us.
Peter recognises something important, powerful and of God is going on here. He is at his most impetuous as he gets out of the boat. Having asked Jesus to command him to, he starts well in faith and hope, but the difficulty in the choppy swirling sea and the enormity of what Jesus was doing engulfs Peter and gets the better of him, as he begins to sink. Jesus literally and physically saves Peter by catching him – and as Peter cries out those immortal words “Lord, save me”
Jesus did save him (and he does save us – once and forever through his saving love on the cross). Paul in our letter to the Romans also takes up the saving love of Jesus – he says
And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord (as Peter did) shall be saved
In this passage Paul gets a bit caught up in human judgements of this saving love of the Lord, but he points to something that will really help us to know the saving love of the Lord in our lives. Where it says – The word is near you – on your lips and in your heart (that is the word of faith that we proclaim). This is a reference to some words of Moses near the end of his life from Deuteronomy, which would have resonance with his original hearers. We also understand the word – as Jesus – carrying Jesus’s example and life with us literally through his words and stories; speaking of them, hearing them, studying them. Allowing them to speak to us and the holy spirit space to work in our hearts will give us the strength we need for each next step. This will help us to drawn back from our fearfulness and lift us from any doubts that beset us.
In troubling times like ours, dwell with God in prayer, and explore the life of Jesus in his word… and through the Holy Spirit’s guidance will inspire us. In Isaiah the prophet speaks thus. For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel: In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.
This episode and the walking on the water speak to us of the saving love of Jesus and the power of prayer. More than that this whole encounter spoke to the hearts of Jesus’ disciples to convince then that Jesus is the Son of God. This was a huge thing for them to say, but recognition of the wonder of his life shared with them. Let us recognise and wonder at Jesus saving love for us working for us, in us and through us – restoring our souls through the power of the Holy Spirit’s work in us.
Let’s remember during this week that the word is near us, on our lips and in our hearts – that is the word of faith that we proclaim as St Paul said. As I thought about these reflections I was reminded of the final verse of one of my many favourite hymns – Lord for the years – It says
Lord for ourselves, in living pow’r remake us, self on the cross and Christ upon the throne; Past put behind us, for the future take us, Lord of our lives to live for Christ alone.
CCLI – Song reproduced and streaming license under CCLI 217043 for St Peter and St Paul Church, Wincanton