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For me, today’s gospel reading has two important messages:
- a call to perseverance in prayer; and
- a call to perseverance in faith.
Perseverance in prayer and faith no matter how challenging the circumstances in which we might find ourselves.
Last week’s gospel reading began with Jesus seeking some time alone, and went on to describe how he spent the day curing the sick, and then feeding more than five thousand people.
Today’s gospel begins with Jesus finally getting that time alone – time to pray to his Father in heaven.
When you think about it, Jesus had so much to pray about:
- those he had been teaching about the nature of the kingdom of heaven;
- those in his hometown who had rejected him;
- his murdered cousin, John;
- all those who had come to him for healing;
- those who had been fed from just five loaves and two fish;
- his disciples, who would soon be caught up in a violent storm.
Jesus had so much to pray about – as do we!
But … for Jesus … all of that activity and all of those distractions were not a barrier to prayer, rather they were its very foundation.
Unlike us, Jesus’ resolve to turn to his Father in prayer was unshakeable.
At the end of the day, in that deserted place, Jesus prayed.
Don’t we wish we had that strength and resolve in our own prayer lives?
- too often our prayer time is eroded by the demands of daily life;
- too often we refuse to sacrifice rest, or whatever, to keep our appointment with God!
Of course, while Jesus was in prayer his disciples were in a very different place – they were on a boat, in the midst of a storm.
But … as their boat was buffeted by the wind, something truly remarkable happened: Jesus came to them, walking on the water.
Is there any wonder that they were terrified, or that they cried out in fear?
The practicality of walking on water is not the point of this moment in the gospel narrative. We should not waste our time thinking about the laws of physics.
Rather, Matthew is inviting us to consider who it is that is walking on the water, and particularly when it is stormy.
On that storm tossed night, on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus was revealing himself uniquely as the one endowed with the power of the creator God – the God to whom he had been praying into the night – the God in whose strength he was walking on the water.
The disciples (in the midst of that storm) found themselves in the divine presence, encountering the divine power in all its strength.
On one level the words of Jesus: Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid are the words of a leader taking command.
On another level, those words invoke the divine name of God – the great I am, the creator of the heavens and the earth.
Is it any wonder that the disciples worshipped him there and then – Truly you are the Son of God!
Of course the story does not end with Jesus walking on the water …
Peter asks if he too can walk on the water, and Jesus encourages him to try.
- at first, Peter does the impossible, but then he is overcome with fear.
- as he plunged into the waves, he cried out: Lord, save me! –
and Jesus stretched out his hand and rescued him.
In today’s gospel reading we are urged to persevere in prayer, just like Jesus; and we are urged to persevere in faith, trusting that, no matter how fiercely the storms may be raging in our lives, if we accept his outstretched hand, Jesus will be with us, saving us from being overwhelmed.
Through prayer and faith we can be sure of God’s love, healing and consolation, no matter what.
Peter was brave enough to step out of the boat into those billowing waves; Peter wanted to tread the same path as Jesus.
At the moment people all over the world are feeling overwhelmed and threatened by the way in which we are being buffeted and tossed about by the coronavirus pandemic.
Some are pretending that everything that is happening is a nonsense concocted for their inconvenience – the majority are taking a more responsible attitude.
But … wherever you stand between those two extremes, there are times when we are all feeling out of our depth; times when we feel that we are drowning under a multitude of challenges and problems.
In those moments, we often find ourselves struggling to pray to the one who could really help us; we do not persevere in prayer.
In those moments, we also fail to remember Jesus’ words:
Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid!
Though we might feel weak, broken and vulnerable;
though we might be facing very real dangers;
the divine power of God, revealed in Jesus Christ,
is there for each and every one of us.
These desperate times are the very times when Christ will (if we let him) draw us out of the turbulence, and calm the storm of our lives.
We just have to set aside our fear and all the distractions and pray to the God who will come to save us; we just have to accept his outstretched hand, to fix our eyes on him, to trust in him, to know (in our hearts) that he will draw us safely back home to his (and our) heavenly Father.
So, no matter what may be happening in the world, let us persevere in prayer and let us persevere in our faith, because then we will see the most amazing things come to pass. Amen.