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"A Savior in the Storm”

So when they see him walking across the water during another storm, Peter tries to confirm what he thinks he sees. Is this the same one they’ve seen do so many miracles?

“Hand of God” by Yongsung Kim
“Hand of God” by Yongsung Kim

Matthew 14:22-33

August 13, 2023

Todd R. Wright


I don’t normally do this, but for this text it seems appropriate to begin with a joke:


“Why did the chicken cross the road?” To get to the other side!


It’s old and not all that funny, but it has sparked some interesting variations:


“Why did the chicken cross the playground? To get to the other slide.


Why did the dinosaur cross the road? Because chickens didn’t exist yet.


Why did the turkey cross the road? To prove he wasn’t chicken!


Why did the cow cross the road? To get to the udder side.


Why did the turtle cross the road? To get to the Shell station.


Why did the dog cross the road twice? He was playing fetch.


Why did the raccoon cross the road? He saw you put out the garbage.


Why did the fox cross the road? She was chasing the chicken.


How did the egg cross the road? It scrambled across!


Why didn’t the skeleton cross the road? Because he didn’t have the guts.”[2]


I wanted to start that way because this scripture begs us to answer a similar question –


Why did Peter attempt to walk on water?


Was it because he often acted before thinking?


Or to prove how brave he was?


Or because any fisherman would like to master the dangerous deep?


Was it because he had an inflated sense of his own power?


Or, more innocently, that he wanted to be like Jesus?


Or that he simply wanted to be to be near him – like a fearful child running to a parent?

 

Jan Richardson thinks she knows. She suggests that when Peter attempts to walk on the water he is running a sort of vision test.


She writes, “I’ve been thinking about seeing, and not seeing, and how difficult it sometimes is to learn to see, to recognize what’s before us.” [3]


Think about this scene again. The wind and the rain make visibility almost impossible. The fact that it is pre-dawn adds to the difficulty. And most importantly, there is the strangeness of the image – you do not expect to see someone walking across the water toward you.


No wonder they think he might be a ghost!


Sometimes it is hard to make sense of what we see … and sometimes we have to learn to make sense of what we are seeing.


“In her book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard writes of reading Marius von Senden’s book Space and Sight. She conveys von Senden’s descriptions of what happened when eye surgeons began to perform the first successful operations to remove cataracts. For many of those who had been born with blindness, the experience was terrifying in the beginning. Their brains had never learned how to process and make sense of the images that now confronted their eyes. Shapes appeared flat, meaningless, fearsome. One newly sighted girl walked around for two weeks with her eyes closed.


Gradually, many of them passed through their fright and began to work with what their eyes were trying to tell them. Dillard describes one man who, trying to develop his depth perception, would toss a shoe out in front of him. He would estimate how far away the shoe was, walk toward it, pick it up, toss it again. Slowly, he began to see.


Richardson applies this example to our story. She writes,


“When Peter got out of the boat, it was his way of tossing a shoe, testing his depth perception there on the waters, feeling his way toward the one whom he was still learning to recognize and to know.[4]


So what did he see?

 

Earlier in his gospel Matthew tells of another storm at sea. That time Jesus was with them, asleep, and they woke him, shouting, “Save us! We are perishing?”


Jesus rebuked the wind and the waves and everything became still! The disciples were amazed and began asking, “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?”


They know there is something special about him, but they do not see him clearly yet.


In the intervening weeks, Jesus heals a man possessed by a demon, forgives the sins of a paralytic and bids him walk, calls a hated tax collector to join their ranks, raises a twelve year old girl from the dead, heals a woman with just the touch of his garment (due to her great faith!), heals the blind and the mute, restores a man with a withered hand and feeds 5,000 men (plus women and children) with five loaves and two fish!


They know he is a miracle worker, but they are still missing something.

 

So when they see him walking across the water during another storm, Peter tries to confirm what he thinks he sees. Is this the same one they’ve seen do so many miracles?


I don’t blame Peter for his caution.


A few years ago, my father received a phone call. The person on the other end of the line said, “This is Nathan. I’ve gotten into some trouble. I was in a car that got pulled over. They found drugs in the car. They weren’t mine, but I need money to pay bail. Can you help me?”


Now my father should have known it was a scam, but he was blinded by his love for his grandson. He wired a substantial amount of money. And when he got suspicious later, it was too late.


I think Peter feared what he was seeing was a scam. So he asked for proof:


If it is really you, you’ll be able to command me to do something impossible and I’ll do it.


It was a test. And we know how it turned out. Or do we?


Don’t focus on the fact that he sunk after a few steps. Of course he did!


Focus on what he saw – Jesus reaching down and lifting him up!


That’s the image on the cover of the bulletin. That’s what Peter saw!


Suddenly, Jesus is not just a charismatic leader, or a teacher with authority, or a miracle worker – all the things they already knew. No, he is the one who responds when we cry out, “Save us!”


Save us when we are drowning, when we are in over our heads, when we cannot catch our breath!


Save us when we are lost, when the bottom has dropped out, when we cannot rescue ourselves!


Save us when the challenge is too big, when we are too small, when we cannot fight any longer!


Save us from the disease that will not respond to treatment, from the despair that clings to our heart like a burr, from the decisions that we have made a mess of!


Save us!

 

I would not wish any of that chaos on any of you … but I do wish that something, somehow gets you to the point where you can see Jesus clearly as the one who is able to save you, the one who wants to save you, the one who will always save you! There is no one else. Amen


[1] “Hand of God” by Yongsung Kim
[2] All these (and more) can be found at https://www.rd.com/article/why-did-the-chicken-cross-the-road-jokes/
[3] This quote and the following reference are from “Night Passage”, Jan Richardson’s reflections on the text, 8/5/08
[4] Ibid
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