Fellow Passengers: This week’s Primary Passage* (Matthew 14:22-36) transports me to a stormy late-night lake and a boatload of frightened followers of a left-behind leader. Jesus was fresh off a mixed-review tour of his hometown, where the faithful were so few and the doubts so deep that His wonder-working power provided miracles few and far between. He had just received news that His forerunner and friend, cousin John, had literally lost his head, baptized in the murderous waters of Herod’s foolish cruelty and indulgence. Then he had to confront the faithlessness of his own disciples, dismissing their doubts by feeding a multitude a meal grown from meager means.
We pick up the story here, with Jesus sending His motley crew on ahead of Him, across the lake to the proverbial “other side,” the unfamiliar and scary side, filled with strangers walking on foreign soil. In the middle of the night the weather started getting rough and the tiny ship was tossed, making no headway against the fierce wind. Jesus, apparently renewed by a few hours of time alone with God, was finally ready to face the feckless band of not-so merry men once more (perhaps wondering if they could ever be transformed in a feck-full band). He did the now-famous lakewalk, striding over waves and through wind and mist toward the listing boat. The struggling rowers lay down their oars to see who or what it was coming toward them. For a people as fearful of water as the Hebrews were known to be, this image coming through the fog would have dredged up all sorts of fears. Sea monster, Leviathon maybe? These monsters live, hidden evil before hidden evil, as an ancient poet said, where ofer þæm hongiað hrinde bearwas, wudu wyrtum fæst wæter oferhelmað. þær mæg nihta gehwæm niðwundor seon, fyr on ode. No þæs frod leofað gumena bearna, þæt þone grund wite (that is to say, in a more modern version of our English tongue, where the mist steams like black clouds, and the groves of trees growing out over their lake are all covered with frozen spray, and wind down snakelike roots that reach as far as the water and help keep it dark. At night that lake burns like a torch. No one knows its bottom, no wisdom reaches such depths. Anyone recognize that description of an old lake occupied by a troubling monster and his mother?
The disciples settled on the apparition being a full-fledged ghost, and started shaking in their sandals, sobbing out their fears, figuring this is it, sayonara. But then Jesus, full-fledged flesh and blood human but acting more like his ghostly trinity companion, revealed Himself and challenged them to conjure up some courage. Peter took up the challenge, and jumped ship, full of all the thoughtless wonder and bravery of a fool rushing in where angels fear to tread. As soon as his mind caught up with his heart, though, the fears returned and he began to sink like a stone. Jesus offered a lifeline hand, scoffing at his renewed fear and doubt. And they worshiped Him. If all this sounds familiar, it is not just because we’ve read it or heard it a thousand times. It’s because this is our story, a story of courage and fear mingled together, of leaps of faith and sinking hopes, of waves and wind and worship inspired by a Love that lifts us up when nothing else can help. Meanwhile, many miles away, something crawls to the surface, of a dark Scottish lake (anybody name that tune?).
How about you? Where does this Primary Passage take you on your journey of faith?