07 August 2011

"But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, 'Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.'" (v. 27)


In the previous verses Jesus has fed the 5,000, whilst in this passage he walks on the water. Both miracles would have reminded the people of Moses and his exploits during the exodus in whichGod parts the sea and feeds the people with manna. Of course Jesus' miracles are not exactly the same: one crucial difference is that his miracles were not life-saving, unlike those of Moses. Though the people may have faced some discomfort, nobody was about to die.

At the heart of this reading is the contrast between fear and faith. The disciples' fear means they assume that Jesus is a ghost and when Peter is actually walking on the water it is his fear that causes him to start to sink. Faith is the opposite characteristic and when Peter puts his faith in Jesus and obeys his command, he too can walk on water. It is only when the strong wind distracts him from Jesus that he starts to sink.

As a reasonably strong swimmer, I am a little surprised at Peter's cry of "Lord, save me" (v. 30) when he begins to sink. It is only a bit of water, we also know from John's Gospel that he can swim and anyway the boat was not far away. Why then the strong reaction? The answer perhaps lies in a mythical fear of the sea as a representation of chaos and evil in Peter's world view. The deep was the place where the leviathan lived; the mythical beast of chaos and in the Revelation of John, the beast comes from the sea. This then explains Peter's fear but also gives a deeper insight into the meaning of this miracle.

Another theme running through this passage is that of Jesus' identity. The disciples move from believing he is a ghost to the declaration that he is the Son of God. But Jesus words "take heart, it is I; do not be afraid" and his actions remind us of Isaiah 43:1-3. It seems that God is present in this miracle.

To Ponder

If nobody was about to die, why do you think Jesus perform this miracle?

Peter got out of the boat, not a very sensible idea on the face of it. Where does good sense end and faith begin in your life?

Bible notes author: The Revd Jonathan Mead

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