The dramatic story told in our gospel this weekend of Jesus walking on the water towards the apostles struggling to stay afloat in their boat, and of Peter’s attempts to walk on water like Jesus, have some important theological and spiritual points to make.
Firstly, the boat represents the church wherein the apostles conduct their mission, a church beset by persecution, opposition and apostasy, symbolized by storm and night. The stormy sea is symbolic in biblical writings of chaotic evil over which God triumphs (cf Psalm 77:17; 107:25-30). In the midst of turmoil, it is clearly the abiding presence of Christ that saves. His Lordship over nature and human beings is underscored in various ways. He walks on the water (ps 77:19), he identifies himself as “I am (he),” the same self-identification used by God to Moses in the scene of the burning bush (cf Exodus 3:14), Peter addresses him as “Lord,” a biblical term for God, and pleads for salvation, which only God can deliver.
I always marvel at Peter’s request to come to Jesus across the water. If I had been in his position when Jesus identified himself, I would have asked Jesus to come over to the boat instead. The story is much better, however, as Peter must go through the turbulence to get to Jesus. The force of the storm does not immediately abate. As long as Peter keeps his focus on Jesus, however, he does okay. When he turns his focus again to the storm, he begins to sink. Given that the storm represents, among other things, the problems we face in life, we too will sink if we let the storm hold our focus. As I shared in my homily last Sunday, our faith and hope must be “centred” on Jesus. May we keep our eyes fixed on him as we pass through the storms of life.