When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, got into a boat, and started across the lake to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The lake became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the lake and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, ‘It is I; do not be afraid.’ Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land towards which they were going.
Rowing a boat on a rough sea in the dark must be scary, though perhaps for the fishermen disciples it was familiar territory. What WAS frightening to them was the sight of a man walking towards them 3 miles from land. How do you explain that?
And then Jesus said: ‘It is I, do not be afraid.’ The fear dissipated. But as soon as Jesus got in the boat, they landed – at least 5 miles on. What was happening?
Throughout the Bible, the reaction to encountering God is fear and awe, and the response is the exhortation to ‘Be not afraid.’ Think of Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah on encountering God – all feared the consequences. Think of Mary, Zechariah, the shepherds in the fields – all are told not to be afraid.
Encountering God’s awe and majesty makes us realise we are unworthy. Why would God want anything to do with us?
Amazingly, God wants a relationship with us, and wants us to ‘be not afraid’.
Jesus was teaching his disciples about God in a series of revelations that gradually increased their understanding of the nature of God – think of Luke’s story of the massive catch of fish after a fruitless night as he called Simon, James and John, the wedding at Cana where they saw how water was turned into wine, the feeding of the 5000, the walking on the lake. Each time, they wondered and feared, and understood a little more, as part of their journey with Jesus towards the cross.
We have heard the whole of the story, but we too need to learn as we journey through the Scriptures, walking the way of Jesus today, wondering and getting to know the loving and forgiving (but awesome) nature of God, enabling us to grow and to share the good news with those around us.
Prayer of St Richard of Chichester (1197-1253)
Thanks be to you, our Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the benefits which you have given us, for all the pains and insults which you have borne for us. Most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother, may we know you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly, day by day. Amen.
The Rev’d Sue Cossey, NSM and Synod Pastoral Advisor, Bristol. Member of Zion United, Frampton Cotterell.