Which animals have complete faith in Jesus?
Penguins, because they can walk on water!
The reading is Matthew 14:22-37 (also found in Mark and John) but to fully appreciate this reading, you need to read:
By combining the four Gospels we can get a fuller picture of this story where a boy offers five barley loaves and two fishes, which Jesus blesses and miraculously feeds everyone with twelve baskets of leftovers showing the abundance of Jesus’ grace. The main lessons of this story were to understand what gifts we have to offer, actually offering them to God to use and there is this element of self-sacrifice, that this boy offered all he had, which prompts us to question whether we offer all we have. It shows Jesus’ compassion and is set against a backdrop of John the Baptist being killed. Jesus needs to grieve, he needs to contemplate what this death means to his ministry, but far from going into a quiet place, crowds follow, so he heals, teaches and subsequently feeds the people.
This week’s text comes right after this event. Jesus is still looking for a quiet place to go. He dismisses the crowd, he orders the disciples to get into a boat, so that he can go into the mountainside alone and pray. He is clearly looking after himself; he understands that he needs to relax and to be with God, to not burn out. This is a very helpful picture for Christians, especially in the ministry, where there is a trend to feel that we have to burn out for God, that we have to continually offer. Bob Pearce, who founded World Vision, believed we should burn out rather than rust out. This beautiful text shows that self-care is part of our ministry; looking after ourselves is part of what we have to do. Self-evidently, if we do not look after ourselves, we cannot look after others.
Jesus then seeks solitude. Meanwhile, his obedient disciples who went into this boat are having difficulties with a storm that has brewed. It is at this time where they see this ghostly apparition and Peter responds, “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.”
Now, I find this quite a revelation. Peter does not know for sure it is Jesus, there is panic and crisis on the boat. So, Peter reveals something of his own nature. He does not demand Jesus to “still the storm and save us”, for which there is a precedent in Matthew 8:23-27, but he asks Jesus to perform a miracle for him, which I think is quite self-centred.
Peter recklessly gets out of the boat, stupidity in itself. Yet, is not faith sometimes seen as being illogical? His miracle is that he starts to walk on the water. Anyone who has been in a crisis, however big or small, can now identify with the predicament Peter is in. He takes his eye off Jesus, he sees the overwhelming odds against him and starts to sink.
Jesus has strength while walking on the water to help Peter out. He is not just standing on water but he has enough purchase to haul a grown man out of the sea. We immediately start to question ourselves: what would we ask of Jesus to convince us that he is real? Would we ask for a self-centred miracle or a major one for others? What does that reveal about us? If we are in a crisis, keep your focus on Jesus. All you can do sometimes is shut out the world and be intent on trusting Jesus and knowing He is stronger than the situation in which we find ourselves.
This beautiful little passage has two miracles. Jesus walked on the water and then he stilled the storm. So, Psalm 107:29 should be read in conjunction with this: “He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed.” Peter leaves the security of the boat even though it is being tossed by the rough Sea of Galilee. Peter, not for the first time leaves security behind; he left the security of being a fisherman to follow Jesus, now he is leaving the relative security of the boat where his friends are. I suppose a question for us to ask is when do we leave our comfort zone, when do we branch out, leaving friends and family behind in order to follow our faith.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Peter is depicted as very much the leading disciple. He is emerging from the group as its leader, the rock. This story combined with Matthew 8:23-27 if gives us a very interesting insight. In Matthew 8:27, at the culmination of them being saved, we read: The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!” Whereas, in Matthew 14:33, the disciples come to the realisation: “Truly you are the Son of God”. We see the gradual development of the disciples and this, of course, is how our faith grows. It grows by having a constant relationship with God. It grows by trusting God in evermore difficult situations until we come to the realisation of who God is for us.
In the boat in the storm, Peter asked for his own personal miracle but I was thinking about this and I asked myself whether we limit God by not asking God for enough. Are we very conservative in our requests for God? Perhaps this also limits our faith. Do we ask God for enough miracles or do we limit them because we limit God? I then wondered if we close our eyes to some of the miracles God does anyway.
I am reminded of a story concerning Napoleon at the height of his powers where people would write him requests asking for things that were impossible for him to grant. He was asked if this was annoying, however, he said not at all as it shows people think I am greater than I really am. In the same way, do we limit what we ask God for or should we pray huge prayers knowing that God is greater than anything for which we could pray?
So, my challenge to us all this week is to be aware and open our eyes and truly look and see the miracles that God is providing in the world and in our own lives. I wonder how many miracles we will be able to report back next week, for we must remember that we worship a God who created the universe and created us so that we could have a relationship with God. So, let us keep our eyes open and see how God is keeping God’s relationship with us.
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Rev'd Martin Wheadon