August 9, 2020




The Gospel passage this Sunday tells the story of an event that happened after Jesus multiplied the loaves and fish for 5000 people.  Matthew says that Jesus ‘made’ or ‘forced’ the disciples to get into the boat, while he himself went up onto the mountain to pray.  Probably Jesus ‘forced’ the disciples in the sense that he made them leave while he stayed behind.   Matthew does not often picture Jesus in prayer; his doing this, with the addition that ‘he was alone in the evening’, seems to prepare well for his divine action which will follow.

Matthew switches scenes to bring his readers to the plight of the disciples as they tried to cross the Sea of Galilee.  This Sea, about seven miles at its widest, was known for sudden squalls; such is the case here.  Jesus comes towards them; he walks on the Sea.  This happens quite late, in the ‘fourth watch’ (in Jewish, not Roman, calculation); in our computation, it is some time between 3:00 am and 6:00 am.  [For Israel, night began at sunset, about 6:00 pm; the night was divided into four periods, each being three hours.  Romans divided the night into three periods of four hours each.]  The disciples left Jesus presumably while there was still light.  Granted the difficulty in rowing against heavy waves, it is about 3:00 am when Jesus comes towards them, walking on the Sea; why did Jesus wait so long?  Apparently to perform the miracle Matthew now relates.

When the disciples saw Jesus, they thought they were seeing a ghost, or an apparition, and this made them fearful.  ‘Ghost’ appears in Matthew nowhere else than here.  However, it is said of the risen Jesus that, when the disciples saw him in Galilee, ‘some doubted’; apparently the doubters thought that they were seeing an apparition or representation of Jesus, and not himself.  Here, too, Matthew wants Jesus to be seen by the disciples as an apparition, a ‘shadow’ or ‘ghost’ of himself.  It seems right to say then that Jesus is here pictured in some way as he will be pictured at the resurrection.  Here, in veiled form, is present the risen Savior.  Jesus can only encourage his disciples not to be afraid, no matter what the experience coming to them.  Note Jesus did not get into the boat, but only urged his disciples not to fear.

Matthew now turns attention to a slightly different scene; it is Peter, who calls to Jesus, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water”.  [A ‘command’ is necessary because the waves must be dominated by a superior power.]  Jesus merely says, “Come”.  Whatever strength Peter’s words to Jesus showed, Peter realizes that the predicament in which he now finds himself may well cause his death.  He had not doubted his own ability to go the Jesus, once the waves were controlled, but he finds the waves are not controlled, but very dangerous and something he cannot overcome on his own.  Thus his cry, “Lord, save me!”  The conclusion is simple and logical: “Why did you doubt?”  Jesus did not calm the waves, simply asked for trust.   

What did Peter’s words say about Peter when he asked to ‘come to Jesus’? Did he not have faith that he would reach Jesus, no matter what be the power of the violent waves?  Peter, once setting out for Jesus, realized the dangers in which he put himself.  “Come” was no longer enough to assure him that he would reach Jesus.  His fear began to show who he thought Jesus, his ‘Lord’, was.  He had failed to have that confidence which is born from the affirmation that Jesus is in the fullest sense ‘Lord’.  

What is the lesson learned for us today?  The church will have troubles which seem overwhelming. And the Church, like Peter, is weak and vulnerable. But the Lord is there wherever we go and he will not allow his Church to sink beneath the waves. It has looked very often as if it might happen but each time the Christian community has risen from the ashes stronger than before.  Matthew tells his readers through his story that they cannot lose confidence, no matter what the dangers; they must be different than Peter, and know in whom they believe: Savior who will not allow dangers to destroy his people.  He is master of the Sea, like Yahweh, and as loving.  That love will never abandon his people.  And Matthew knows that soon Jesus will have to show the same trust, based on the same conviction about his Father.  Jesus will not be one ‘of little faith’, nor should his disciples.

Elijah’s encounter with God provides us with another example of how we are to approach the divine. So often we expect the Lord to come to us in overwhelming force yet for Elijah, God is revealed in a tiny whispering sound. In the midst of the chaos in our lives we must maintain an interior silence [prayer, contemplation] to be able to discern the will of God. For God is always with us, we will never be abandon by the Lord. 



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Updated: August 9, 2020

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