Someone I was talking to pointed out various heterodox groups tend to catch on to certain aspects of doctrine and make it central. So you can find groups with an over emphasis on the baptism of adults, or even famously handling snakes. Oddly I have never some across a sect which advocates walking on water. Perhaps we do not have faith in sufficient quantity? In fact it is a trick I do a lot. I do it because I have a boat which makes it a lot easier, but regularly there is nothing between me and the bottom except a piece of steel and water itself. You can do much with the right equipment. However, there is no promise that I know of suggesting Christians can expect to walk on water so why is this story in the gospels?
Firstly the event happened of course. There is much nonsense talked about in our culture about miracles, much of it by atheists and agnostics. Even Christians seem hesitant. Miracles we are told, are unscientific. Yes they are, to an extent, but it is no use saying they are not reproduced in a laboratory the way chemical reactions are. I have never actually seen a nuclear explosion; I believe they happen of course. In my experience I cannot reproduce the effect, but that is because I do not possess sufficient enriched uranium or plutonium. If you want to see a miracle you have to have God operating and to be prepared to do His will. You cannot force God to do a miracle.
What the story shows us is that Christ had complete power over the forces of nature and could transcend them. It follows that His actions on earth were entirely voluntary. His truly endured the cross as a voluntary action.
Today’s Gospel reading is also about prayer, and relationship with God. St. Peter addressed Christ asking firstly for the command. He did not, despite his famous impulsiveness, leap straight into the water, he wanted to know that he was doing Christ’s will. That is the first lesson we can take from today’s reading. It is no good asking for something God does not want to happen. What we can do is offer to do something and to seek God’s will. He will reveal what He wants from us if we are really prepared to listen.
The next point is that whilst St. Peter is concentrated on Christ he did similar miracles. He cured people in Christ’s Name; he was a great preacher. He even walked on water himself. St. Peter open to Christ could do much, but not in his own right. It is surrendering to his Lord and ours that makes such things possible. Bothered by the turmoil of water around Him St Peter began to fear. Doubt took over.
Centred on Christ we transcend earthy limitations; without Christ we remain subject to them. Listening to fear is to expect failure. When concentration on Christ falters the normal rules of physics and of banal day–to-day life take over. That is the “default setting”. Faith is needed in any walk with God. For it to work we need to trust Him. Christ chided St. Peter for his lack of faith and lifted him up. God helps those who need it if they are prepared to be helped. When he got to the boat the wind died. Again I think the sequence of events was to show something, the storm could have been stilled earlier.
Now there is another aspect with which I wish to conclude. It is based on prayer and I am obliged to Metropolitan Anthony Boom for the insight. He points out we often use intercessory prayer as if we were telling God off for leaving people in need. Intercessory prayer is often in fact misused by implicitly blaming God for His omissions. Pointing out the sufferings of the world to God is not enough. What Christ did was to identify with mankind totally and without reserve.
The archbishop drew a parallel with the Theotokos at the wedding in Cana:
“The only thing she said, and which in the event was decisive, was not that she recalled to Christ the need and hope of those who were surrounding him, it was the moment when, in an act of perfect faith, without limits, she turned to the servants and said: ‘Whatever he says, do it’. She created the conditions of the kingdom of God by her act of faith which brought into that act of faith those who were still on the fringes in comparison with the perfect faith that was hers, and because she was able to believe, God was free to act. And that also is something we can do, we are all free to do it, we are all in a condition to do it. “
Christ identified with the poor, the suffering and the dying. He went through all human life and so must we, it is not enough to stay safe and be comfortable, we need to be active; we use our faith and our abilities. Prayer is also active, it supports and is supported by what we do. We can and do pray for the needy, we also need to give our time and money to support them. Such is what we are called to be and do. It is a seamless whole. In fact prayer, as the relationship with God is something that needs to be part of our whole lives. Our faith and our willingness to act and be used makes the extension of the Kingdom of God a reality. Every Christian reveals Christ to those around him or her. We are able to do that to the extent we are centred on Christ Himself.
That is the invitation and the challenge for us all.