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Matthew 14:22-33 – Jesus (and Peter) Walks on the Water

Summary

When the disciples are battered by the waves at sea, Jesus comes to them walking on the water and calms their fear with his assuring word, "It is I." At the Lord's command Peter also walks on the water, but in fear begins to sink. Jesus reaches out his hand in rescue, but reproves his little faith.

Analysis

This second story of the disciples at sea (see 8:23-27) is not so much a miracle as it is a story of faith. It is replete with Matthean motifs, including for the first time Peter's emerging role as a representative of the disciples and thereby of the believing community. The "immediately" of its opening verse pointedly joins it to the preceding story of the feeding of the five thousand, and in Matthew's telling it becomes essentially a parable of faith. The disciples are at risk on the sea without their master who is alone in prayer. Finally, near morning, Jesus comes to them walking on the water, but in their fear they fail to recognize him. Jesus' command for them to stop being afraid contains within it the revelatory "I Am."  Peter responds with words of faith, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." At Jesus' command to come, Peter indeed does walk on the water, but when he takes his eyes off Jesus, he begins to sink and cries out to the Lord for rescue.  Jesus reaches out, takes him by hand, and catches him up, and then chastises him for his "little faith."

Twice Peter has addressed Jesus with words of faith, calling him "Lord." Trusting in Jesus' command to "Come!" he has walked on the water. When in peril he cries out to Jesus as "Savior," and even in the midst of his doubting he is rescued. Though Jesus chides Peter for his "little faith" (a word that is essentially unique to Matthew's gospel narrative), still, at the Lord's touch, the wind ceases and the boat with the disciples is safe. All those in the boat respond in the only way appropriate for disciples: they worship Jesus as "Truly…the Son of God." The combined motifs of doubt and worship mirror the reaction of the disciples when they meet the resurrected Lord on the mountain (28:17). This combination and the fact that the word translated "doubt" occurs only in these two places in Matthew emphasize the importance of this story as a parable and model of faith for Matthew's community.

Matthew 14:22-33

Jesus Walks on the Water

22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land,* for the wind was against them. 25And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake. 26But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. 27But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’

28 Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ 29He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. 30But when he noticed the strong wind,* he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ 31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ 32When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’

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10 February 2011

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