1 Kings 19:9a, 11-13a; Psalm 85:9-14; Romans 9, 1-5; Matthew 14, 22-33

Turning Over Stones

Here are some stones I have overturned to see if there are any ideas underneath. I will be pleased if you grab hold of something and pull -- and discover that it has some homiletic roots.

In a few places below, I highlight some material that I found particularly insightful when reviewing a number of commentaries. I hope the authors and publishers of these insights are more flattered than copyright-concerned. If they choose to sue me they can have everything I own; however, they need only bring a shoe-box and 7 hangers.

After he had fed the people, Jesus made the disciples get into a boat and precede him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.

If you do not succeed the first time, try, try again. Jesus, who earlier in the day / withdrew / in a boat / to a deserted place / by himself / in order to either grieve, pray, or escape the interest that Herod had in Jesus as possibly John the Baptist raised from the dead, now makes deliberate plans to escape both the disciples and the crowds in order to be alone. The only time he has spent alone on this day was in a boat on the Sea of Galilee -- on his way to a deserted place. And even then, I wonder how much solitude could be enjoyed on that trip with a visible throng of 20,000-30,000 traveling on foot on the shore in the direction in which Jesus was either sailing or rowing. Furthermore, Jesus has spent the better part of the day curing the sick, and a better part of the evening feeding the hungry.

Homily: Under some circumstances, it might be appropriate to put off private, reflective prayer in order to do a work of charity; however, never let work take the place of prayer, let them exist hand-in-hand. Although Jesus is moved to delay prayer earlier in the day, he now unmistakably creates the opportunity for uninterrupted prayer when his works of charity are complete.

I wonder if the boat that Jesus made the disciples depart in was the same boat that he earlier in the day arrived in? Did the disciples arrive on foot with the crowd, or did they show up in an additional boat to the place of the multiplication of loaves and fishes? Does the fact that Jesus walks on the water support the theory that there was no boat available for Jesus? If it is the same boat, is this why Jesus MAKES the disciples get into the boat? Were the disciples leery to part with Jesus? Did they fear that they would be separated from Jesus for a few days too many?

Homily: Do we ever think we can be separated from Jesus by the places we go, or to the places we are taken? Do we feel that Jesus abandons us in our time of crisis? Do we ever feel that we have permanently separated ourselves from Jesus by the storms of sin or confusion with which we have surrounded ourselves? During times likes these Jesus walks out to us in our storm, tells us to take courage, and calms the wind. Let our simple response to the saving help of Jesus be that of Peter -- Lord, save me!

I wonder if it was difficult to dismiss the crowds? Perhaps the hunger that drove the crowds to seek Jesus earlier in the day has been sated and know they feel free to depart. The sick were cured, the masses were miraculously fed, and the glory of God was made manifest on earth. Not a bad day. Perhaps it was time to get home to the familiar. Perhaps they were excited to recount what they had experienced to those who were not there. In any event, the crowds were dismissed.

After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening he was there alone.

Interestingly we are told twice in this short phrase that Jesus is, indeed, alone. Perhaps the importance of solitude in prayer is stressed here.

Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it.

Here is an interesting contrast in scenes. In the last scene Jesus finally finds an opportunity to pray. There is an emphasis on his solitude. Furthermore, he prays on an elevated place -- a mountain. A scene is conjured up of Jesus praying in a quiet, placid, elevated place away from, and above distractions. And now we hear of the simultaneous, forceful waves against which the disciples are trying to make some headway. Here is a powerful juxtaposition of serenity -- and panic.

During the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them walking on the sea.

In the time of Jesus, the night was divided up into four watches: 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. -- 9 p.m. to 12 midnight -- 12 midnight to 3 a.m. -- and 3 a.m. to 6 a.m.

I love this kind of stuff. Who thinks like this: Barclay proposes that by Matthew telling us earlier in the account of the miracle of the loaves and fishes that Jesus ordered the crowds to sit on the green grass, that it must have been springtime -- very likely near Passover time, which was in the middle of April. If this is true, then the moon would have been full. Therefore, it might be further proposed that when Jesus descended down the hill upon which he prayed that he would have been able to see the boat being tossed by the waves. Therefore, Barclay has Jesus intentionally walking to the boat to help. In any event, you have to love the geological and astronomical proposal.

By the way, here are some Sea (actually a freshwater lake) of Galilee stats: 13 miles long, 8.5 miles wide, maximum depth 150 feet, surrounded by mountains 1,200-1,500 feet high. In short, one can look across the Sea from any direction. Tradition places the site of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes at Heptapegon, where the early Church of the Loaves and Fishes was built. This is located in the Northwest corner of the Sea of Galilee. Also, it is common for high winds and dangerous storms to suddenly appear out of nowhere. Dangerous sailing conditions are oftentimes unpredictable. If your slant is that Jesus intentionally walked out to the boat to lend assistance, there is certainly a homily here.

Homily: Again, Jesus comes to our need when we are blown about in our own boats of life. Winds of temptation, winds of despair, winds of sadness, winds of anger, winds of jealousy.

When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. It is a ghost, they said, and they cried out in fear.

Some say that this is a common symptom of little (infantile, growing) faith: a faith that is still afraid. Gee, I wonder if I would be afraid if I saw a figure walking toward me atop of 150 feet of water?

At once Jesus spoke to them, Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.

The response of Christ is immediate.

Peter said to him in reply, Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water. He said, Come. Peter got out of his boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, Lord, save me!

For me this is the real heart of the story -- the interaction between Jesus and Peter. Peter knows that whatever Jesus commands is made possible. Peter has witnessed all day long Jesus commanding cures to be worked and loaves and fishes multiplied. Peter has no doubt that what Jesus commands will happen. However, the command requires a response, and we learn that the success of the response is contingent upon faith. The great Dietrich Bonhoeffer states that Peter had to leave the boat and risk his life in order to learn perhaps the most valuable lesson and straightest path in the spiritual journey: the realization of both his own weakness and the almighty power of Jesus. For Bonhoeffer, had Peter remained in the boat and not taken the first step, his faith would have been worthless.

The response to follow Jesus requires a definitive and unavoidable step, and those who think they can follow Jesus without making this step are diluting themselves. Note that Peter SAW how strong the wind was; that is, he must have moved his gaze FROM Jesus who commands him TO a manifestation of the fierce wind -- probably shown by its forceful movement of the waters around Peter. However, the response by Peter -- Lord, save me! -- is in a sense one of two perfect prayers when nothing else comes to mind in prayer (the other one is -- Thank you, Lord).

Also, Peter, a leader who is known to act impulsively and from his heart moreso than his head speaks up first among the disciples and makes his request. Barclay points out that the wonderful thing about Peter is that every time he failed -- every time he fell, he rose up again and became closer to Christ. He had the good sense at least to yell out, Lord save me! In the moment of his weakness he knew enough to reach out to Christ, his rock.

A saint is not a person who never fails, but rather a saint is a person who gets up and goes on again every time he falls. The failures of Peter only made him love Christ more -- only made him rely upon Christ more.

I side with those who contend that the response of Peter is not indicative of a skeptic who constantly doubts; but rather a faithful follower of Jesus who simply becomes overwhelmed by the circumstances that surrounded him. Peter panics when he moves his gaze off of Jesus and on to the fierce winds which roll the water into ominous waves. Although his faith clearly weakens, he makes the most appropriate response -- Lord, save me! Before he sinks to his demise he immediately feels the hand of his savior supporting him.

Homily: Peter is the model of a very human journey of faith. He seeks, He steps, he sinks, he is saved, he praises, repeat. One could propose that the faith of Peter returns when he refixes his gaze again on Jesus and says -- Lord, save me! -- not, Lord, save me IF you can. Peter trusts in the immediate saving help of Jesus. Weakness which leads to the awareness of the saving power of Jesus is always beneficial. Have we moved our gaze from Jesus? Has our gaze moved toward fears or distractions?

Homily: I think what we should take away from this interaction between Peter and Jesus is the courage Peter displayed in first asking Jesus to command, and second, responding to that command. We should also be mindful of the purest request of help from Peter (Lord, save me!), and the immediate response from Jesus.

Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught Peter, and said to him, O you of little faith, why did you doubt?

Again, an immediate response from Jesus is made here. Both of his responses in this story are responses to the fear that his disciple/s express. Both are immediate. The first response is made to calm, the second response is made to save.

After they got into the boat, the wind died down.

Homily: Whenever Jesus comes into a situation in life, the storm dies down. Jesus brings calmness.

Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying, Truly you are the Son of God.

This admission by the disciples that Jesus is the Son of God precedes the same admission by Peter 2 chapters later.

More to come . . .

Back to Main Page