August 08, 2009
Jesus Walking on the Water
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Last Sunday’s Gospel reading told us of a great miracle: the feeding of an enormous crowd of many thousands with five loaves and two fish. The disciples of Christ themselves, through whose hands this miracle was performed, were dumbfounded. And as the Gospel says, Christ at once compelled them to enter a boat and go before Him to the other shore while He dismissed the crowd. "And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, He was there alone. But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea" (Mt. 14:22-25).
A wonderful image of the Church of Christ is drawn for us here. The boat, as it were, represents the Church: its sides are the rules and canons of the Church; the disciples are all of us Christians; and the stormy sea is the sea of our life. And now too Christ has ascended a mountain, which means He is sitting at the right hand of the Father. He sees our Church boat and directs it. The Gospel says that the disciples went to the other side, not of their own will, but "straightway Jesus constrained His disciples to get into a ship and go before Him unto the other side" (Mt. 14: 22). This means they were doing it out of obedience to Christ. And when they found themselves in danger, He walked to them on the water.
"And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying... It is I; be not afraid. And Peter answered Him and said, Lord, if it be Thou, bid me come unto Thee on the water. And He said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus" (Mt. 14:26-29).
Notice this moment: Christ did not call Peter, but only permitted Peter. Here obedience changed to boldness, this came from Peter himself. He felt such a surge of faith, such elation, that everything seemed possible to him. But here something happened. A wave, a high wave for a second hid Christ from Peter. He found himself alone. At once cold reason set to work. It was as if he came to himself and thought, what was he doing? Foolishness. Reason took from him the lightness of faith in which he walked, and he started to drown. A desperate cry rang out: "Lord, save me." And immediately Christ stretched forth His hand to him(Mt. 14:30-31).
What happened to Peter? Well, what happened to him can happen to each of us: he became frightened, his faith was shaken. And this happened because he stepped over the side of the boat. What a profound lesson is hidden for us here: in Christian living there should be evenness, there should be quiet. And for this to be so, we must never step over the side of the Church boat. We must keep the statutes of the Church, must live the life of the Church. And then, even if we find ourselves amid the stormy sea of life, we will be able to cry out, "Lord, save me." And He, the Merciful One, will stretch out His saving hand to us, too, as He did to Peter, and we will find ourselves in the boat of the Church, and a great calm will come.
Sermon by Archbishop Andrei (Rymarenko 1893-1978)