The withdrawal of the King — part 6
40 blogs of Lent — day 8
Water is a feature of the creation story of Genesis, but it does not say it is created, it is just there. Not that I take early myths as scientific fact, but the Genesis accounts starts not from nothing, but from chaos. “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” The waters were there even before God said, “Let there be light.”
22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. 25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”Matthew 14:22–27 ESV UK
To the Jews the seas were a place of darkness and chaos a personified in the ancient monster in the book of Job, Leviathan. The sea of Galilee, in reality a large lake, was prone to sudden violent storms which came down from surrounding mountains onto this low lying expanse of water. In chapter 6 of Matthews Gospel Jesus has already calmed a storm that was about to sink the boat he was in with his disciples, a storm so fierce that even seasoned sailors were afraid. This time Jesus is not in the boat, this time the boat is not about to sink, but the wind is against them, the disciples are rowing like mad and getting nowhere.
At key moments Jesus would take time to pray alone. He was 40 days in the wilderness before starting his ministry, and took a night in prayer before choosing the disciples. He is also noted for worshipping regularly and his prayers were such that his disciples had asked him to teach them prayer technique. But there were also some special times. This was one of those special times.
Jesus had tried to escape Galilee because it’s ruler, Herod, wanted to kill him. Unable to get away from the crowds which would have given his location away he has a dilemma, to go back to his ministry of teacking and healing or to lie low somewhere, a fugitive. It is getting near dawn, we are not told the content of the prayer between Jesus and his Father, but Jesus has made his resolve, he is going back to Galilee, so he sets off across the lake. On foot.
This is when the disciples get scared: When Jesus walked past they thought he was a ghost.
The picture at the top is misleading, Jesus was not walking on calm water, if the wind was strong enough to stop them from moving when rowing it was strong enough to make decent waves. They were not making no headway because they were outside God’s will, they were in the boat because—wait for it—Jesus had put them in the boat. Jesus had tested their faith before, when he was in the boat with them, now he was testing their faith when he was not in it. They failed the test both times, but neither was the end, these are the people on whom the Church of Christ would be built. We have no need to fear failure
The Christian life is not plain sailing and when things go wrong it may not be our fault. I have suffered enough abuse at the hands of Christians who said things like, “When you feel far from God, guess who has moved.” Such utter nonsense should never be said. Jesus promised, “In the world you will have tribulation,” John 16:33, precisely because we are in God’s will. Jesus did not leave the disciples alone, and he does not leave us alone. His message is the same to us as it was to the disciples in the boat:
“Cheer up! I am Existence! Don’t be scared!”