The Gospel for this Sunday brings us the story of Jesus walking on the water and of Peter’s attempt to do the same thing. While the story of Jesus walking on the water appears in the Gospels of St. Mark and St. John, St. Matthew Is the only evangelist that recounts Peter’s attempt.
The story also seems to be intimately connected to the feeding of the five thousand. All three evangelists include this miraculous vision immediately thereafter.
As I have written before, St. Matthew’s Gospel sprang up out of the Jerusalem community of Jewish Christians. St. Matthew was intent on portraying Jesus as the “new” Moses, the new lawgiver, the one about whom Moses wrote. Peter is regarded by St. Matthew as the chief apostle. Consequently he holds a position of importance for these early converts to the Way which would later be called Christianity.
Nature plays an almost “personal” role in the Scriptures. While Moses was atop Mt. Sinai, God’s presence was signaled through such natural phenomena as a strong wind, thunder and lightning, earthquake and fire. Elijah’s encounter with God on Mt. Horeb was different in that Elijah perceived God’s presence in a whispering breeze – different, but still a natural element. These people, like us, knew that only God can control nature.
We also know that at the time that this Gospel was written the Christian community was beginning to experience persecution for their faith. Remaining true to their faith in Jesus was a challenge for them as it is for us today. So Peter’s attempt to walk on the water, while it begins well, is defeated by this lack of faith. The moral of the story is very clear. Clinging to our faith is the only way to get through the difficulties of this life.
As I write this blog entry, the world is witnessing the horrors of a Christian genocide in Iraq. Calls for prayer and calls for assistance fill the media. I can only imagine the kind of fear that these people must be feeling. The story of Peter’s attempt to walk on the water is a reminder for all of us of the importance of placing our faith in Jesus. Only he can save us. We must place our trust in him.