Jesus geht auf dem Wasser

Faith Impulse

Sermon on Matthew 14, 22-33 and the question: What would you have done?

22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.
23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone,
24 but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them.
25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea.
26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear.
27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus.
30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.”
31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.
33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Dear brothers and sisters, I think many of you do not hear this story of Jesus walking on the water for the first time. The story is so simple and at the same time so incredible, that it is easy to remember. I know it too, of course. And I mean, I've even preached on it before. If I remember correctly, I gave a lot of thought to walking on water at that time. When there's a big storm, right? When there are high waves. When the ground is in violent motion. Is Jesus now walking from wave valley to wave top? Is the water smoothing out in front of him? Does he go through the waves? Does he get wet in the process?

All these strange questions trying to understand what is actually happening here. Trying to understand how Jesus does it. And in the background, of course, asking: Is this true? Can there be such a thing? Or is it all nonsense and is being told this way for a completely different reason.

So what I would like to look at with you today is how we deal with the biblical word. How we can learn from it as much as possible. What does it take for the biblical word to become food for us. That brings us further, that strengthens our faith. How does such a story become interesting for our own lives?

The older I get, the more these questions seem crucial to me. To be determined that the biblical word can open something in us. It can do something.

When I was young I used to read the Bible more analytically. Analytically, meaning, is what I just read or heard true or false? Can it be or not. Does it contradict some other biblical passage?

Meanwhile, I believe we can learn more from God's Word by asking: what is it trying to tell us? What does it want to trigger in us? What should or can we think about when we hear it.

Because if we only hear this story with our head, then it must be rejected. Our mind clearly says that no one can walk on water. One can't.

That's why all this story's jokes always end with, "Maybe we should have told him where the rocks are." Or there are funny contests like that, where people try to get as far as they can by stepping on floating air mattresses. Of course, that doesn't work.

So what is the story trying to tell us? 

I think at the core of this miracle is the confession of the disciples in the last verse we heard today: ""You are truly the Son of God." Only God or God's Son can do that. And the fact that Jesus can do that is a picture of his sovereignty. Is a picture of his power. Is a picture of his importance.

Water is also used in the Bible as an image for disordered chaos. For as it says at the beginning of the Bible, "And the earth was desolate and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters." (Genesis 1:2) And then in Job we find the following passage about God: "He speaks to the sun so that it does not shine, he seals the stars. He alone stretches out the heavens and walks on the heights of the sea." (Job 9:7-8)

In this context, then, we can understand what the story is trying to tell us. It takes up biblical images that make a statement about God. About his power and greatness. And connects them with Jesus. Hence the confession, "You are truly the Son of God."

I mentioned at the beginning that I believe that the biblical word wants to make us think. And now I would like to expand this thought: I believe the biblical word wants us to participate. We are asked to relate to the biblical word.

So not to watch from a distance, but to ask ourselves, what would I have done?

Today it is the behavior of Peter that invites us to do so.
Speaking of Peter - I just like him. I just like him, I think I have always liked him. With Paul I am often unsure - but Peter corresponds to me. In him I find myself - or I want to find myself in him. Sometimes he is perhaps a bit cheeky, a bit too spontaneous. But I know that from myself, too.

In any case, Peter's behavior invites us to ask ourselves, how would I have acted? Or how would I have wanted to act? What would it have triggered in me?

I have now collected a whole series of questions that came to my mind around Peter's behavior. And I have tried to relate these questions to our questions. Of course, you won't be able to answer them all right away. Neither could I. But they should be a stimulus to let this text, this story, come closer to ourselves.

At first I asked myself how I would have behaved if I had been on board the boat. Would I also have cried out in fear? Fear of what? That Jesus is God? That this God is approaching me? What does he want from me? Do I have to change my life now? Can I still decide that, when it is so obvious that this Jesus must be the Son of God?

The next question was: Would I also have had Peter's courage? The courage to approach Jesus and ask him to instruct me to come to him? What would be my own personal, inner reasons for doing that? The love for Jesus? The chance to experience something very special with him? This confidence to be able to try something that is actually impossible? To walk on water, like Jesus?

This question is naturally followed by the question, would I also have doubted? Would the reality of life have caught up with me? That the incurably ill die after all? That we as humanity will not succeed in stopping climate change? That there is suffering that we cannot explain? That not all people want to believe in God?

And then if I sink or am threatened to sink, would I then also have cried out: Lord, save me? Am I so honest with myself that I know when I can only be saved? Doesn't my pride forbid that? My self-esteem? Surely it can't be that bad - and I can swim. I mean I’m a fisherman. I'll manage myself through somehow. Do I want God, do I want Jesus, to help me?

And my last question for today: how would I have taken Jesus' rebuke: "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" Well hello, Jesus! At least I tried! Surely the others didn't even leave the boat? Can I see my own shares, despite these words of Jesus? Or would that have been a humiliation? An experience after which I would have kept my mouth shut? And behaved like everyone else?

Questions upon questions, I know. And they are my thoughts about it, which do not fit for everyone. But they should be an invitation to explore this text in its depth. To be drawn into the biblical word.

I am convinced that the biblical stories can become fruitful in this way. Exciting. Enriching.
And thus become an opportunity to experience God. To feel him. 
And thus also to feel the love that He has in store for us.


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