He Walks on Water
By Thabo Makgoba
Reading from the Gospel of Matthew, 14:22-36
22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” 28Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
34 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. 35After the people of that place recognized him, they sent word throughout the region and brought all who were sick to him, 36and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.
Jesus’ action in sending the disciples on ahead by boat, while he dismissed the crowd and retreated alone to the mountain, might be explained by the suggestion, which we can draw from John’s Gospel, that he was resisting pressure — generated by the miracle of the loaves and the fishes — to declare himself king.
That his followers would force him into such a declaration was a misunderstanding on their part of his mission — a point underlined by his subsequent demonstration of a far higher source of power. The nature of this power challenged the faith of his disciples, and of Peter in particular.
Faith comes by hearing and responding to Jesus. We show our faith by committing ourselves to God and boldly taking initiatives, knowing God is in control — even in times of plague and tides of change. Even in the midst of great turmoil, illness, and death — in fact especially amid such troubles — Jesus is there with us. Faith prepares us for the storms of life, which in turn make our hearts more receptive to Jesus. He still comes to us and says: “It is I, don’t be afraid.”
This gives us the courage and the confidence, as Jesus tells the Samaritan woman in John 4, to ask God to give us that “living water,” in other words, to share with us the promised Paraclete to give us deeper understanding.
The Most Rev. Dr. Thabo Makgoba is Archbishop of the Diocese of Capetown, South Africa; metropolitan of the ecclesiastical province of Southern Africa; and chancellor of the University of the Western Cape.