Chapter 16: Jesus Walks on the Water
Our meeting today revolves around the theme of hope: how to live it in the midst of life’s crises? Jesus has walked on the water and calmed the wind and waves battering the boat of the disciples. Who can walk on water? What does this act symbolize? Our lives are facing numerous challenges in this world. The Church, herself, has faced centuries of persecution and threats. What problems are you currently facing? What persecutions are you encountering? Is there a safe way out? Today, we will cast light on these issues, remembering that the living Christ protects his people from evil, provided they have faith and do not fear.
2- Reading and understanding the Gospel: Jesus walks on water (Mt 14:22-33)
22Directly after this he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side while he would send the crowds away. 23After sending the crowds away he went up into the hills by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24while the boat, by now far out on the lake, was battling with a heavy sea, for there was a head wind. 25In the fourth watch of the night he went toward them, walking on the lake, 26and when the disciples saw him walking on the lake they were terrified. “It is a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. 27But at once Jesus called out to them, saying, “Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid.” 28It was Peter who answered. “Lord,” he said, “if it is you, tell me to come to you across the water.” 29 “Come,” said Jesus. Then Peter got out of the boat and started walking toward Jesus across the water, 30but as soon as he felt the force of the wind, he took fright and began to sink. “Lord! Save me!” he cried. 31Jesus put out his hand at once and held him. “Man of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” 32And as they got into the boat the wind dropped. 33The men in the boat bowed down before him and said, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”
2. 1- Explanation
In this passage, we find several symbols: the presence of Jesus alone on the mountainside (14:23) is a symbol of his death; his unexpected appearance (v.25) indicates his return after the resurrection; his walking on the waters symbolizes his victory over the world of death, the world of the sea, since many believed that the sea was the place of the devil, where resided a dragon that shook the waves. The disciples in the boat symbolize the Church. “It is I” – an expression commonly used between Jesus and his disciples – reminds us of God acknowledging Himself to Moses in Sinai by saying “I am that I am” (Ex 3:14) as well as the name of Emmanuel in the Gospel of Matthew “God-is-with-us”. As for the phrase “do not be afraid” (v.27), Jesus will repeat it at the Transfiguration and during his appearances after his resurrection: as believers, we can remind ourselves and each other “Don’t be afraid” because Jesus is present, personally and daily, to every believer in the world.
The dialogue between Peter and Jesus is of ecclesiastical importance since Peter is responsible for the Church. Peter does not have an exemplary character, but he reflects the more realistic image of the disciple and believer, with high expectations of Jesus, placing a great deal of hope in him, while at the same time he is full of doubts, so that he stumbles and falls. When Peter looked at Jesus, he was able to walk on the water, but when he looked at himself, he began to sink. The lesson drawn from Peter is that faith follows a path of seeking the Lord, interspersed with moments of doubt. Much as the disciples who cried out in fear: “Lord, save us!” (Mt 8:25), Peter repeats the call for help: “Lord, save me!”. Also, when the disciples acknowledge Jesus on board the boat “Truly, you are the Son of God!”, now it is Peter who repeats the same cry: “Lord, save me!” The disciples confessed their faith when Jesus climbed into the boat saying, “Truly you are the Son of God” (Mt 14:33), and Peter will repeat this at Caesarea of Philippi (Mt 16:16). Help is brought by the hand of the Lord to the disciple with little faith. In the midst of the problems of life, heresies and temptations, the Church of the disciples and Peter will overcome doubt with hope, opening our hearts to God who gives us salvation.
2. 2- Summary and Practice
The fear of the disciples and the cry of Peter, “Lord, save me!”, point to their little faith in the words of Jesus. They should have confidence in the presence of the Saviour God, who always repeats in such moments “It is I, do not be afraid!” Let us not have doubts about the presence of God by our side. No matter how hard the wind of evil blows against us, let our hearts be open with hope in Jesus who is present with us whenever we encounter hardships.
The discovery of God’s identity thus takes place through the experience of salvation. Peter was saved by Jesus when he began to sink; likewise, Jesus saves the disciples from the rough sea. That is why they prostrate themselves before him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God. Indeed, this is the experience of the Christian over the centuries, and perhaps it is also your experience, you who come to the catechumenate meetings: the continuing presence of the living and resurrected Lord leads you to experience real salvation. That is why you can always proclaim, “Jesus is alive; he saved me; I am a witness to his resurrection!”
3- Theological and Spiritual Teaching: The Grace of Hope
The Church teaches that hope, faith and charity are the theological virtues, distinguished from the other virtues by the fact that they relate directly to God. In his hymn to charity, in his First Letter to the Corinthians, St Paul proclaims, “In short, there are three things that last: faith, hope and charity; and the greatest of these is charity.” Hope is the desire for the things from above, promised by God in Jesus Christ. As the one who promised is faithful and he keeps his word, we expect to achieve what we hope to achieve, in the strengthening of our faith and commitment to charity. Our gaze is first and foremost fixed on eternal life, when God will resurrect our mortal bodies to dwell with Him in His Kingdom. However, our hope is not restricted to Heaven, and extends to our life on Earth.
In the Old Testament, God intervened in many ways in the lives of His people, but in the fullness of time, He sent His Son Jesus to dwell among humankind; after his resurrection, Jesus sent his Spirit to be present always in his Church and in the world, acting for the building up of the Kingdom of God. We look forward to the fulfilment of the Kingdom of Heaven, but are also certain of the presence of the Kingdom on Earth, though in a concealed and invisible manner. That’s why we are committed to working in the Lord’s field, hoping that, despite the difficulties that we face, God is faithful and will fulfil His promises.
What is the difference between “hope” and “hope/hopeful expectation”? By “hope”, man strives to see his living conditions improve, to achieve success at work, to achieve his dream of travelling or to bring war to an end. These hopes are wishes, which may or may not happen, and man often prays for each to happen. “Hopeful expectation” concerns the coming of the Kingdom of God. This is a firm and honest promise from the Lord. Often, I am confident that my current Christian faith will have a big impact, because I trust that I am sharing in God’s work. Living by the concept of “love thy neighbour”, for instance, is often mistaken as weakness or useless effort. However, it is a great and important achievement in God’s eyes, because it is a row of bricks laid down in building the Kingdom of God. Through the act of charity, I will be a collaborator of God in His redemptive work. Hence, Christian confidence gives us power to stand by our faith, strong and tireless, without stepping back in the face of challenges.
It would be helpful to recall the Parable of the Grain of Mustard Seed where Jesus says: “It is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the biggest shrub of all and becomes a tree so that the birds of the air come and shelter in its branches” (Mt 13:32).
4- Reading and Meditation: A Reading from St Isaac the Syrian (7th century AD)
Our Hope in God
O Christ, who are the only strong one, blessed is the man whom you support and in whose heart are the steps towards you. Turn, O Lord, our face away from the world through desire for you, so that we see it as it is, without taking shadows for truth. Cast, O Lord, zeal into our hearts before death comes, that at the time of our departure we may know for what purpose our entrance into, and our departure from, this world have served. Then, fulfilling the work to which we were called in accordance with your purpose in placing us in this life first, we shall hope, with a heart full of confidence, to receive the great things which, according to the promises of the scriptures, in the second creation are prepared by your love, things the recollection of which we preserve with mystic faith. Glory be to you, Lord, Amen.18