The story in this week's Gospel is a perfect example of the process of the faith journey, and it contains some very powerful biblical images. Jesus comes walking on the water in the fourth watch - very early in the morning. There is a new day beginning, a new strength for disciples who must face the storms and turbulence of life. This is not just a story about a miracle at sea, but it is both a strong statement about Jesus and about the future of the disciples.
Matthew's story actually begins at the end of another story: the miracle of the loaves and fishes. Jesus has compassion on the crowds and feeds them with a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. A major theme of this story is that the disciples are told that they play a major role in the miracle – “Go and feed them yourselves.”
Now we see the outstretched hand of God offering strength and courage for the overwhelming and angry seas of the moment.
Fear plays a major role in today’s story. The disciples were fishermen by trade. They were used to stormy seas, being tossed about by heavy winds and pounding waves. Yet, Matthew tells us that they were terrified – and they became more so, when they saw what they perceived to be a “ghost” coming towards them.
We have no problem identifying with Peter. He is confident one moment and then, when things get complex, and he realizes that he has bitten off more than he can chew, and he falls apart. At this moment, fear takes over and it is too late; he needs help.
The interesting thing, though, is that Jesus doesn't calm the storm while Peter is walking out – the storm continues to rage, and fear continues overwhelm them.
It is only when they are together again in the boat that they can begin to know who Jesus really is - and by knowing Him, they come to understand themselves and their relationship together.
Perhaps the lesson here is that it is OK to be afraid - God will love us despite our fear and trembling; but fear can and must be overcome. And our God goes to great pains to constantly remind of this. But it is only together that we can break through fear and come to peace… together as a community.
We are all, quite literally, in the same boat… we share together the turbulent seas of the storm as well as the gentle ripple of the water against the side of the boat on a calm day. We cannot walk upon the water alone; but together we can.
And doesn’t that sum up what a lot of us are experiencing these days? The coronavirus pandemic is wreaking havoc on all of us in so many ways, but it also is giving us opportunities that we should not miss.
How will we get through these and the long days ahead? When will it end, and when it does, what will our lives be like? We do not know the answer to these questions, but we do know what we will need to persevere despite our fears. And we are beginning to see that we need one another to do this.
Grace is always present, even in the worst of situations. God is present not only in the best of times, but also in the worst of times.
"Take heart, It's me… don't be afraid."
Jesus is the Presence among us who interprets for us what may seem to be incomprehensible. He comes to us - not as a "ghost" walking on the water - but as He always said He would: as the hungry man, the thirsty woman, the naked child, the sick and the dying, the homeless, the condemned prisoner.
It is our responsibility to translate this mystery into the kind of faith, hope and love that we need to refashion our lives and our world. We can only do this together.