The story of Jesus walking on the water appears in three of the canonical gospels — not, as you might think, the three Synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) but, rather, the gospels of Matthew, Mark and John. I have no idea why Luke’s gospel leaves this story out, but it’s not too hard to see why life-of-Jesus movies have skipped this episode for the most part.*
For one thing, it’s more brazenly supernatural than some of the other miracles, which could be a turn-off to some of the more skeptical or liberally-minded audience members. Also, it’s kind of hard to visualize what it would have looked like, exactly, for someone to walk on water — especially when there was a storm raging all around him and stirring up the waves. Until the rise of CGI, it might have been too difficult to film a version of this scene that would have looked half-way plausible.
This episode was included, however, in last year’s mini-series The Bible, and it is also included in Son of God, the movie coming out next month that consists mostly of footage from the Jesus-themed episodes of that mini-series.
And I have to say, this scene in particular benefits from the big screen. Picture yourself sitting in a darkened screening room, with the image of Jesus looming life-size (or bigger) before you, surrounded by lightning flashes etc., and it’s not too hard to see why the disciples might have assumed he was a ghost. It’s certainly a vastly different experience from watching this scene on your TV or laptop.20th Century Fox has now uploaded a clip from this scene to YouTube, bookended by comments from Focus on the Family president Jim Daly. (The clip also includes dialogue from John the Baptist that, if I recall correctly, was used in the sixth episode of The Bible but is not used anywhere in Son of God.) You can watch it below:
* Of the fifteen films surveyed in the second edition of W. Barnes Tatum’s Jesus at the Movies, only three include this episode: the 1912 silent film From the Manger to the Cross, the 1964 Pier Paolo Pasolini film The Gospel According to St. Matthew and the 1989 Denys Arcand film Jesus of Montreal, where the walking on water appears only in a play within the film. None of these films — not even Pasolini’s — was aiming for pure naturalistic realism, certainly not by today’s standards, so the artificial quality of their walking-on-water sequences was not necessarily a problem for them.
February 25 update: I just noticed that the clip that originally accompanied this post is no longer on YouTube; however, a shorter video that features Jim Daly talking about this scene, without the liar-lord-lunatic apologetic that originally followed it, is now online. So I have posted the new clip above in the original clip’s place.