Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

by Bear Wade

Crossing Water
Matthew 14:22-33
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 14-Sunday between August 7 and 13 Inclusive)
analysis by Cathy Lessmann


22Immediately 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 worshipped him, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”


DIAGNOSIS: Sinking

Step 1-Initial Diagnosis: Battered
As the disciples’ boat was making its way across the sea, it was battered by the wind and waves. And there is nothing to suggest that there is any relief in sight. There are no crowds. There is no Jesus in the boat (not initially). Just themselves. Do they brave it alone? Do we? Even for us who think we have our feet planted firmly on dry land, the experience of being battered is not foreign to us: battered by pressures, by put-downs, by judgments, even the physical battering that has become all too common in our society. And we can know the experience of being alone in our battered state.

Step 2-Advanced Diagnosis: Terrified
Wondering whether or not one will survive the ordeal is enough to terrify most of us. But it is not simply a problem for our senses, which are allowing us to hallucinate in our fears. For the disciples, it is the very fear that death is coming to them on the water (even ghostly). And that fear becomes so pervasive, that nothing can seem to squelch its stormy invasion upon our being. Hence, even when Peter steps out of the boat, it becomes evident that the problem is one of “little faith,” or doubting that there is any hope. But then, the entire focus is on the waves and the wind and our puny, little energies to combat them — which are inevitably too weak. Nonetheless, God is not in the picture for us. Only our unfaith.

Step 3-Final Diagnosis: Drowning
In that moment, as we are drowning, perhaps the cry goes up for help. But who is there to rescue us? We have not valued God — only the goal of saving our own skins, trying to survive the best we know how, and now finding that death’s toll is not simply God’s non-answer, but God’s answer to our dilemma.

PROGNOSIS: Walking

Step 4-Initial Prognosis: Caught
As Peter’s nose is about to go under, it is at that moment that Jesus reaches out his hand and catches him. So also we are caught, when our noses are underwater. We didn’t deserve to be caught. That much is certain. But the fact that we are caught by his hand reaching into our watery grave is the promise with us from our baptism on, and in all our daily drownings. Christ has reached into the grave of our being and pulled us through — at the cost of his own drowning in our sin. But that is how he becomes our Lord, so powerful that even the wind and waves obey him.

Step 5-Advanced Prognosis: Worshipping
The worship this inspires in our beings acknowledges who Jesus is for us: the true Son of God who gives us the strength to walk on water and not be afraid. It’s not simply that there is a miracle that happens here — though, indeed, such faith for so motley a crew as ourselves is miracle enough. What it means is that the Lord we trust is greater than all the obstacles we encounter, anything that would lead us to be afraid. Jesus’ arms are enough to pull us through. And our worship of him as Lord is our faith that we are never alone.

Step 6-Final Prognosis: The Other Side
Which leads us to where our Lord had directed us all along — to the other side, to the challenges, and maybe indeed dangers, on the other side. But who’s afraid of crossing the water, or the road, or the tracks, to the other side when the Lord who has already been there for us calls us to “come” and “take heart”? The opportunity for new courage and new heart awaits us all! And with Jesus’ steady arm, we are sure to endure!

Author

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