Most of us are familiar with sea crossing and the prospect of sea sickness.
To be on a boat and to get sick is a very unpleasant experience for both the person who is sick and the people who are watching. Indeed one person getting sea sick could be the start of a lot of people feeling sick ). The rates of seasickness depend on how those on board cope with the turmoil caused by choppy waters.
Today’s Gospel story compares the Church to a boat that can expect to be buffeted by the forces of chaos (turbulence and stormy seas).
When St Matthew is writing his Gospel some 50 years after the death of Jesus, he is facing a real problem. Many of the Jewish converts are feeling estranged from their former friends in the Jewish faith. Some of them are wavering and some renounce their new faith when they find that they are not allowed into the synagogue. Hence Matthew writes his gospel to support them in their troubles.
The doubts that the early church experienced is expressed movingly in today’s Gospel. Jesus is praying to his Father. His followers are separated from him. They are in a boat which is battling against a heavy sea and strong wind. All seems lost. The boat clearly represents the church while the night storm represents the opposition the church is facing. Jesus calls to them and tells them not to be afraid, and then he comes to them over the water.
Those who have grown beyond the little faith of the disciples (v. 31) and keep their eyes on Jesus will be able to navigate their way through fear and the threat of panic.
At the beginning of this Gospel extract Matthew relates how Jesus goes apart to a quiet place to pray to his Father. From the still point of a heart focused on his Father he is able to do what seems impossible. He walks on water. Peter discovers that when he draws close and grasps Jesus’ outstretched hand he finds his own still point in the Lord. Jesus’ gift to him is fearlessness that gives Peter the courage to step out of the boat and walk over the waters towards his master. At least one scholar maintains that the reason why Peter lost his confidence and began to sink is because his colleagues in the boat started to jeer at him! Where there is fulsome support it is possible to walk on water, where there is lack of encouragement many sink. Storm-force head winds can either snuff out the spark of little faith or fan that spark into a blazing fire.
There is no inevitable learning from experience. Sometimes we learn, sometimes we don’t. This episode on the Sea of Galilee presented Peter with an opportunity to learn how to respond to the forces of evil and chaos. For the Jewish mind sea and storms represented the forces of chaos and unrest, while darkness was perceived as sinister
The forces that caused Peter to panic on the lake in Galilee returned to haunt him in Jerusalem.
His fear led him to another reaction that he would regret. This time he sought to save himself by betraying Jesus. He had failed to learn the deeper lesson of the events on the lake in Galilee where Jesus demonstrated his power over the forces of chaos by walking over the waters and calming both the storm on the lake and the waves of fear.
Faith in him brings inner strength and the courage to do what is right.