Christ Asleep During the Storm c. 1886-94 Tissot, James Jacques Joseph (1836-1902). Photo: Bridgeman Images
The gospels reveal their truths year by year. What we saw and understood about Jesus last year has become a part of us. This year a new insight emerges or leaps out at us according to what has taken place in our lives.
The death of a family member or close friend changes our perspective. Jesus had heard of the death of John the Baptist and wanted to go to a lonely place, to withdraw, but the crowds were there waiting for him. We read this last week in the gospel.
This week he sends the people away and he tells the disciples to get into the boat and leave. At last, he is alone and ‘he went up into the hills by himself to pray’. We read that he often prayed through the night.
We understand his need to be alone, not only after a big day with the people, thousands of them, but to quieten down, to create some space for himself. What does he do? He prays.
Why did he pray? Did he need to pray? The outstanding people God chooses, do they pray and hunger for intimacy in their prayer with God?
God, we read, initiates the relationship, encouraging people to come into a deeper relationship with him. God takes us seriously if we take God seriously. Rather than having an easy life, holy men and women generally have a demanding life in which their relationship with God deepens through ‘trouble’. They are purified, God’s life in them transforms them, divinises them.
The disciples are in the boat and struggling on the lake, their lives as simple men have been up-ended. Then the figure of Jesus comes to them, just before dawn, apparently walking on the water. They cry out in fear, they are terrified and he says, ’Courage it is I! Do not be afraid.’
Did the disciples wonder afterwards, perhaps on the road to Emmaus that if it was possible for Jesus to walk on water, he ought to have been able to save himself from death?
The heart of the story for us is not about the feat of walking on water (as Peter Sellers did at the end of the movie ‘Being There’), it is in hearing the words from the Lord when we are terrified, ‘Courage! It is I. Do not be afraid’.
Peter does what he knows best, he acts impetuously and tries to walk across the water when Jesus invites him to do so. It is a disaster, he has a sinking feeling, we identify with that feeling and Jesus words to Peter are the same to us after grasping Peter by the arm, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’
The storm ceased when He and Peter got into the boat. What did Judas make of all this? We presume that Judas was with the other disciples when Jesus performed his acts of kindness, mercy and power. Yet he was still able to betray him! How is that possible?
Columban Fr Gary Walker is currently living at the Columban house in Sandgate, Brisbane.