Walking on the water. This story is similar to the story of Jesus calming the storm in chapter 4 which we heard about a few weeks ago. One difference is that in the earlier story Jesus was in the boat with the disciples but fast asleep. In this tale the disciples were on their own and we are told, ‘struggling vainly against a gale.’ Then Jesus came to them walking on the water. All the comments about the ominous significance of the sea are relevant here. Once again they hear a message about courage. In the Matthew version Peter also walked on the water but got scared and started to sink. Jesus accused him of having little faith and doubting. What does this story mean? We have at least two options. If we take the story literally, Peter was able to walk on water until he became afraid. If that’s the right way of hearing the story is it simply a report of a spectacular and unrepeatable event? A piece of information about the past? One of those miraculous things that happened in Biblical times. If it is a factual report does it mean that we could walk on water if we have sufficient faith and in the process don’t become afraid? I can tell you now, I wouldn’t have put one foot on the water. I don’t like putting my foot in water never mind on it. Was that event only possible then and only for Peter?
We could read the passage as a simple parable. As a parable it can have several meanings.
Is it telling us that faith and fear are opposites? Is it saying that faith and courage go together? Are we being told that faith enables us to overcome the storms we meet? Perhaps, in life, without faith we sink. Faith is trusting in the buoyancy of God and we should treat God as a lifebelt. All possible interpretations based on the story. Matthew’s addition of the story of Peter walking on the water until he became frightened added to this sort of interpretation.
Perhaps there is a further meaning to this famous story. In the distant past, right back to the first century, boats and ships have been used as a symbol of the Christian church. Not the building but the Christian Community. Possibly because of the great number of references to boats in the Bible particularly in the New Testament. We see a remnant of this idea in that we call the body of the church building the nave. A reference to the sea and to boats. The very early Roman church saw the church as a ship on a journey with a destination and a purpose. By its nature it will cross many dangerous waters but with Jesus as our compass and captain we will arrive on the eternal shore. The Roman Church also sometimes depicted Mary as a ship. Any way, what happens if we unpick the story a little more and try to find meaning for us today? Remember that Jesus was not in the boat at the start of the story. Mark’s tale of the Disciples straining at the oars against a strong gale suggests what happens when Jesus isn’t there. They were completely stalled. At a standstill. Unable to move. But with Jesus in the boat, the wind died down. There is a great children’s song, ‘With Jesus in the boat you can smile at the storm. With Jesus in the boat the disciples were able to make it across the sea to a safe haven. Perhaps the message for us today is, ‘Keep Jesus in the boat.’ If you have Jesus with you. If you are following Jesus as your guide in life it won’t mean everything will be plain sailing but it does mean that you will look at life and its problems in a different light. In your journey through life don’t set out without Him. It’s possible you might not get where you want to go.