A reflection on Matthew 14:22-36

During the fourth watch of the night, Jesus came toward them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. “It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear. At once he spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus.

Awe is a word that has been batted around so much these past years that it has lost a lot of its meaning. How many times have you heard or even used “awesome” in the simplest of circumstances?  And yet, maybe it isn’t so far from the truth, once you get down to the source of awe.

This Gospel passage speaks of awe at the presence and action of God in people’s lives.  The disciples are scared out of their wits by what they think is a ghost.  It appears to be Jesus, so Peter, at once terrified and irresistibly drawn, challenges the “ghost” to prove that it is really his Master, that he is really who he says he is.  And Jesus responds simply, “Come” to Peter’s question of authenticity.  You just have to love Peter in his humanness and his relationship with Jesus!

So Peter jumps out of the boat and starts walking.  Then it hits him: “I’m walking on WATER.”  Jesus is no longer the focus and motive of his action and everything unravels.  The wind pushes him around as the waves try to knock him off balance.  He has the very human reaction of fear and yells, “Lord, save me!”  Jesus takes his hand and they get into the boat. Then the wind dies down.  Can you imagine the awe that filled those men?  He IS all he says he is.  Our master and deepest friend is the son of GOD! Try to wrap your mind around that.  You can’t.  It is only accessible by faith and the Spirit.

I think Jesus’ words to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” were not a slam for being human, but an acknowledgement that Peter was on the right track, and a life-lesson about what it means to have faith in Jesus and live from it.  The awe that they all felt opened them to see the very wellspring of awe:  the presence of God in all that exists and his tremendous power exercised as love and goodness.  And this Presence can and will ask us to stretch our faith, love and trust in a God who fills everything and everyone by walking into circumstances where we must let ourselves grow and be stretched into discipleship as his friends and lovers.

We don’t have to wait for dramatic moments to arise to experience awe.  Every day holds many moments that can lead us to the same place.  So, are they really “small” if they are filled with the enormity of God?  Sunrise, sunset.  A smile. A fawn with its mother.  An invitation to leave behind our selfishness to serve another in honest love.  I could go on and on, and I’m sure you can come up with a long list yourself.  The point is that we live in a world of nothing but awe and we can, like Peter, take the challenge to step out in faith in the Son of God who loves us and has given his life for us, and walk on the water of awe.  As Scripture says, “Truly you are an awesome God.”  In the best and deepest sense of the word!