Much of the time, Jesus tells us something of the Kingdom of God in parables. In the Gospel for this Sunday, though, Jesus does not tell a parable of the Kingdom. Instead, he performs a miracle. Miracles, we know, are signs of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God makes itself fully known through Jesus. Miracles show us something of the Kingdom of God. We have to wonder what we are being shown.
Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear.
So here is a miracle indeed. Jesus walks on water, something that none of us can do. Amazing, yes, but why does he do it? Does he want to freak out the disciples?
But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
So no, Jesus does not desire fear. But what does this mean?
Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
This is interesting. Why does Peter say this? What does he know? He calls Jesus, "Lord," which is a name used in Hebrew scripture only to refer to God. This tells us that Peter already has an understanding of who Jesus is. He knows that Jesus would not lead him into temptation. And he knows he wants to be with Jesus.
And Jesus says,
A challenge? A dare?
Or is this an invitation and a promise?
So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased.
Fear again, and a little faith. So what is the sign of the Kingdom of God? What are we shown? What are we supposed to learn?
The disciples certainly learn who the King is. They worship Jesus and exclaim,
“Truly you are the Son of God!”
Yes, we can certainly see how one who has power over the laws of nature is surely God. So was this the point then? To reveal Jesus as the King, and make the disciples bow down and worship? We wonder. God is not usually in the business of forcing people to believe. God seems to prefer that people come to accept faith on their own. God likes it better that way. So what is God doing?
One thing we know for certain is that God never changes. What God does in the Gospel, God did also in the past, and God continues to do now. So we can consider the past. The church has spent a long time considering the Hebrew scriptures and has found what seems to be a golden thread linking this miracle to an event in the distant past. In the first reading for this Sunday, the prophet Elijah, having run out into the desert, hides in a cave to escape a dreadful situation (partly of his own making). People persecute him. He is afraid.
Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah, saying...“Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.
Noise and chaos surround Elijah: an incredibly great wind, an earthquake, a fire. Mountains split, rocks break. Nature is being terrifying. Elijah does not find the Lord, though, in any of these great and terrifying forces—forces that might easily cause someone to bow down to worship in fear. But God does not want us to worship in fear.
Instead, Elijah finds the Lord in the sound of sheer silence. How can silence have a sound? As soon as anything moves, a sound is created; it is no longer silent. Silence means stillness. God must be met in stillness. Amidst the chaos, God waits in the stillness. God wants us to worship in faith.
And Jesus says,
In the midst of the wind and the waves, we find stillness in Jesus. He walks on the water. Peter looks at Jesus, that point of calm, and climbs out of the boat. And he of little faith—perhaps faith the size of a mustard seed?—walks on water.
God never changes.
If the golden thread is God waiting in stillness amidst all the noise and chaos,
if the golden thread is the King who wants our faith and not our fear,
can we catch a glimpse of that golden thread today?
When life fills with terrifying forces like pandemics, perhaps, or wildfires out of control, can we be like Elijah, and seek out stillness with God?
When we fear forces that threaten to overwhelm us, like death, maybe, or divorce, can we be like Peter, and keep our eyes on Jesus?
And if suddenly we know ourselves swamped and overcome with fear, when it all becomes too much, can we also cry out with him, "Lord, save us?"
We can, because this miracle shows us the King. We know that the King, in his infinite tenderness, will immediately reach out his hand and catch us...
until the wind ceases.