Matthew 14:22-33 - Jesus Walks on Water
Matthew 14:22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23) And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24) but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25) And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26) But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27) But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” 28) Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29) He said, “Come.” So, Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30) But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31) Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32) When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33) And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Background: The overall context of this passage is the resistance to Jesus in his homeland and the growing opposition of Herod and the religious authorities. For Matthew, this opposition is crystallized in the execution of Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist. For the early Christians, Herod represented a kingdom of undomesticated power and unashamed collusion with the Roman Empire. Jesus and his ways represented an entirely different world. This passage follows immediately after the miracle of the feeding of the mass crowd. It is considered one of Jesus’ nature miracles, so named because he demonstrates that he is Lord of all creation. It is, however, much more than that.
Passage as Living Parable. Parables are stories or sayings that open our eyes to a new reality and invite us to think differently about the world, about God and about ourselves. This story, while not technically a parable, does paint a parable like picture. In it we are invited to see ourselves, the church, as the gathered disciples, all together in that little boat on a stormy sea. Jesus is the one that sends us into the storm, calls us to share his power, and rescues us when our trust falters.
Vs. 22 – Immediately – This word suggests urgency and connects today’s passage with the feeding of the 5000+.
Made – A strong word. Literally, compelled. The point is not that Jesus somehow forced, or coerced, them to get in the boat and go. Rather, this word emphasizes that it is Jesus’ command that moves them out, compels them to action.
The disciples get into the boat – The early Christians saw the image of the disciples in the boat as a picture of the church itself, all believers together at Jesus’ command on a wild and unpredictable sea.
Vs. 23 – mountain – In the Bible mountains are seen as places of special revelation or intimacy with God. Think Sinai. Think the Mount of Transfiguration. Think Sermon on the Mount. Think Mount Calvary. Mountains are thin places where heaven and earth intersect.
To pray – In the midst of his grief at his cousin’s death, his rejection by his own people, and the overwhelming needs of the crowds, Jesus seeks time alone to pray and to renew his resources.
There alone – The emphasis here is on Jesus’ isolation.
Vs. 24 – battered by the waves – Calamities at sea were often understood in one of two ways. They were either seen as punishment for sin, or as a result of something deficient. The later is the case here. What are they lacking? The presence of Jesus himself. That lack always leads to calamity.
Wind was against them – Literally a contrary wind.
Vs. 26 – terrified, fear, afraid – The root of each of these words is phobos. It refers to stark terror that makes it hard to think straight or to act rationally.
Ghost – An apparition, a hallucination. The ancients believed that there was a constant cosmic battle going on between the forces of good (God) and the forces of evil (that which opposes God.) This phrase suggests that they are wondering if what they are seeing is an evil force.
Vs. 27 – Take heart – literally ‘have courage.’
It is I – Greek ego eimi. Jesus is not just identifying himself to his friends. He uses the Greek translation of the divine name that God shared with Moses at the burning bush. This is of huge import! He is using God’s name to identify himself.
Vs. 28 – if it is you – Peter is not sure he can trust his eyes or ears. He wants to test the apparition. The early Christians saw in his response a picture of the ambiguity of faith mixed with doubt.
Vs. 29 – Come – Jesus both invites and gives Peter permission to come to him on the water. What is amazing is the glimpse of the truth that those who answer Jesus’ call in faith, also share fully in his life and essence.
Vs. 31 – caught him – this word means ‘to seize in order to help, rescue or save from injury.’
Faith – from the root for ‘to trust or rely upon.’
Ceased – this fascinating word means ‘to stop from extreme fatigue or exertion, to relax just in time.’
Questions for Personal Reflection
1. Do you ever feel that there are oppositional forces making your life difficult? What are those contrary winds? What about our lives as a global community?
2. In what ways do you see the church (locally and globally) straining to follow Jesus’ command in difficult circumstances and chaotic times?
3. What do you think Peter’s motives were for asking to come to Jesus on the water?
4. What does it mean to you to consider Jesus’ authority over the created order?
5. In what areas of your life do you need to hear Jesus say, “Take heart. Don’t be afraid”?