Summary: Jesus’ walking on water was a miracle designed expressly for his disciples, and for all those disciples who followed them.
When I was a boy, there was a newspaper feature entitled “Ripley’s Believe It or Not.” I looked on the net, and sure enough, there it was again: a repository of the odd and the unusual. It came to mind when I ran across another odd story recorded in a book published a few years ago, entitled Bizarre World by Bill Bryson. It, too, is a collection of weird stories, mostly collected from the newspaper accounts. And, it included the following story which is a kind of archtypal example of a bad day.
It seems a man identified as Viktor was seated in a crowded train headed for Budapest. He was one of the leading bee experts in Hungary and he was transporting a box of bees, which he had placed under his seat. As he was talking to the passenger seated next to him, he felt something crawling up his leg. and, then he felt two and then three somethings crawling up his leg. As he pulled up his pant leg and looked down, he discovered that his bees had escaped from the box and were beginning to crawl up his legs.
Well, he was a bee expert, so he was not panicked, but he was afraid of the possible danger to his fellow passengers. So, he calmly suggested that the other passengers leave the car while he recaptured the bees. And, of course, he was going to have to take off his clothes, for the bees were crawling underneath his pants and shirt by this time.
After the other passengers cleared the car, Viktor began taking his pants off. Just as he had pulled them free of his legs, an express train passed, and the sudden draft from the open window blew his pants back into the corridor where they wrapped around the head of a conductor. A startled onlooker pulled the emergency brake. As the train lurched to a halt, somehow a fire started.
When other train officials rushed to the scene they discovered Viktor, minus his pants. So, they assumed he must deranged , and they bundled him off to a nearby mental hospital, where it took Viktor 3 days to convince the doctors he was sane. Now Viktor certainly had a bad day, but I don’t think it can compared to the bad night that we read about in today’s gospel lesson from Matthew 14.
When I have consulted what other Bible preachers and teachers have said about this episode, I find that most of them focus on the miraculous elements of it. And, that is understandable. Jesus’ miracles – and this is one of many that are clustered together in this section of Matthew’s gospel – are powerful testimonies to Jesus divinity. And Peter’s example of leaving the boat because of his confidence in Jesus, and then turning loose of that confidence in the face of the powerful storm and wind – all these are fruitful lessons for us, lessons to which we will return briefly after we step back and look at what a lot of Bible teachers do not dwell on very much. And, what they do not dwell on is the very often is – I think – one of the chiefest points of what happened out there on the Sea of Galilee.
To recognize what we are supposed to take from this portion of Matthew’s gospel, I think we notice several things about this miracle. First of all, it is a private miracle – and by “private” I mean that unlike most of Jesus’ miracles, this one was NOT performed before the crowds. There were a handful of miracles which almost no one saw, and this is one of them. And, when such miracles occur – miracles that only the very few saw, it helps us to notice who those people are.
In this case, it is Jesus’ own disciples, and so we may assume he was trying to teach THEM something which was particularly important for Jesus close disciples to understand. The day before, he had performed the miracle of feeding the 5,000 – which was actually feeding 10 or 15 thousand people – and the next day he was going to perform many miracles of healing. But, here – in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, where no one except his disciples can see – he performs this miracle. This one is for the inner circle; it is not for the crowds. And, if we suppose we are among those who are rightfully called Jesus’ disciples, we would do well to pay extra special attention to this miracle.
When we pay special attention to this miracle, the very first thing we must notice is how Jesus has set it all up from the beginning. Matthew tells us something very important when he relates that Jesus “made” them get into the boat. Why does Jesus have to “make” them get into the boat? This little word points to the fact that the disciples didn’t think getting into the boat to go across the sea was a very good idea. Remember, many of them were fishermen. Here it is sundown, and no doubt the storm that they found themselves in was no surprise – they very likely saw it developing off on the horizon. But, Jesus insists – he sends them off in the boat to row to the other side of the sea, while he goes off to a nearby mountain to pray.