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Sunday 13th August 2017

 

Gospel

Matthew 14:22-33

Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side while he would send the crowds away. After sending the crowds away he went up into the hills by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, while the boat, by now far out on the lake, was battling with a heavy sea, for there was a head-wind. In the fourth watch of the night he went towards them, walking on the lake, and when the disciples saw him walking on the lake they were terrified. ‘It is a ghost’ they said, and cried out in fear. But at once Jesus called out to them, saying, ‘Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid.’ It was Peter who answered. ‘Lord,’ he said ‘if it is you, tell me to come to you across the water.’ ‘Come’ said Jesus. Then Peter got out of the boat and started walking towards Jesus across the water, but as soon as he felt the force of the wind, he took fright and began to sink. ‘Lord! Save me!’ he cried. Jesus put out his hand at once and held him. ‘Man of little faith,’ he said ‘why did you doubt?’ And as they got into the boat the wind dropped. The men in the boat bowed down before him and said, ‘Truly, you are the Son of God.
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The disciples in their boat on the lake are faced into a storm. They are afraid. These men know the sea of Galillee. They know how suddenly the wind can rise and how fierce the storms can be. When they see what they think is a ghost heading towards them on the water they are more than afraid. The Gospel tells that they are ‘terrified’. Jesus, for it is really Jesus coming towards them, orders them to ‘have courage’. ‘Do not be afraid’ he tells them, not for the first or last time.    ‘It is I’ he says.  Have courage.  Do not be afraid.

Saint Peter answers Jesus first. Peter, the impulsive one, always seemed to be the first to answer, the first to respond. Often enough poor Peter ‘puts his foot in it’ as we say. He would say the wrong thing, make the wrong judgement, fail to stay the course. This time he quite literally puts his foot in it. ‘Lord’ he says ‘if it is you, tell me to come to you across the water’. Jesus replies, ‘Come’.  Imagine Peter thinking he could walk on the water like Jesus. As usual, Peter makes a good start, then he gets afraid, loses faith and begins to sink. Jesus reaches out, touches him and holds him. ‘Man of little faith’, he teases Peter. ‘Why did you doubt?’ Jesus and Peter get into the boat and the wind drops. The disciples realise that Jesus has command over the sea, over the storm and over all the forces of nature. Like the God of creation in Genesis, Jesus is truly powerful. He is of God. The disciples begin to recognise this. They bow down before him and say, ‘Truly, you are the son of God’. Jesus has accomplished what he set out to do. He has moved them to recognise who he really is. He has (miraculously) moved them to faith.

I’m sure the disciples must have had a good laugh at Peter’s expense when they told the story in later years. Who else but Peter would do such a thing, leave the safety of the boat, abandon the company of his friends and try to walk on the water. It had to be admitted, though, that he wouldn’t have tried had he not been the first to recognise Christ coming towards them on the water. Just when they thought Christ was so far away, Peter recognised that he was very close.