Our reading this week is from the gospel of Matthew:
Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
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Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (Matthew 14:22-33)
The earliest canonical version of this story that we have is from the gospel of Mark (6:47-52). Matthew adds the detail of Peter following Jesus by walking on the water too. In Mark’s version, Peter’s attempt is absent. Also, in Mark’s earlier version, the disciples are left befuddled, in not-sure-what-to-think amazement (existemi, Mark 6:51). In Matthew, by contrast, the disciples affirm “Truly you are the Son of God.” We’ll talk about these two different endings in a moment.
First, let’s acknowledge how strange a story like this is to our post-enlightenment, science informed minds today. No one believes it’s possible for any of us to walk on water today.
This story was not written for our time and place, but for an audience that looked at the world very differently. Let’s look at a few of the possible roots of this story in the Hebrew Scriptures. We’ll consider those, next.
(Read Part 2)