The secret of the missionary is...I am His, and He is carrying out His work through me. — Oswald Chambers
It is right after the story of the feeding of the 5,000 that Jesus sends his Apostles — sent ones — across the lake while he goes to pray. Let us review again how that feeding of the 5,000 went: The disciples had been with Jesus long enough to know that he could heal and that he had power over evil. He had shown that he had power over the forces of nature. (Matt 8) They had a lot of hints that he was no ordinary man. He had taught them that he had power to give to them to send them out on mission. (10) Yet, had they actually grasped who he was? The day had been one of teaching, healing and exorcizing. Now it became evening. Did they believe that he could feed the crowd? Did they believe that they had the power to do so? (14:16) Is their answer one of despair: “ We only have 2 fish and 5 barley loaves?” Are they truly convinced that this is the Messiah and that his power would be enough? They want to send the crowds away. He has to turn the situation around as much for the disciples as for the crowd.
Who is he, this Jesus? Is he real? Is the entire experience they are sharing real? Are they imagining it? Did he really heal people? Was he real and was he from heaven or was he a spirit, maybe even an evil one like other are suggesting?
In a way they are struggling in faith and seamanship alike. The wind is against them. Their own spirits might be against them as well. The ill wind still blows when Peter walks the waves. But, first, Jesus approaches them and they do not recognize him but take him to be a ghost. Again, he has to calm them. Peter asks for a sign to show him that this figure is Jesus. In a way he has learned. He has realized that nothing is beyond Jesus. But he also is seeking a “sign.” The real sign is the sign of Jonah, as Jesus tells the pharisees. (12:39, 16:4) Maybe his failure, his fear of the waves, his doubt are a roadmap not to follow: Signs do not do it. He did walk on water, but does that make Jesus real?
Is Jesus real and is Jesus the Son of the Most High God? Can faith have an “if” in it? Apostles, disciples, ancient and modern, really need to have this basic step down. If Jesus is the Christ, the only Son of God then all things are indeed possible for those whom he commissions and sends. Yes, the wind calms down and the waves subside when he gets into the boat. But is he ever really “out of the boat?” If, as Luther insisted in the Large Catechism, Jesus lived, died and rose a long time ago but the Holy Spirit delivers his saving death and his resurrection to us today, if indeed the sacrament deliver the risen Jesus, if indeed the church is the tabernacle of Spirt and therefore Father and Son, is the boat ever really abandoned to the waves?
“You of little faith, why did you doubt?” (14:31b) The world is full of us who seek signs. We want to hear and see stories of 4th stage cancer victims suddenly completely cancer free. We want to be that healed person. We want to see and be part of the totally rocking — every Sunday 30% visitors — miracles at every altar call — most inclusive religious community in America — our pastor is never here any more because every evangelical convention wants to hear the story of our congregation — church. Let’s be frank, no one wants to be ordinary. We want to be Peter and be able to say: “I walked on water once.” To his credit, Peter, if he actually wrote I and II Peter, never makes mention of it. For that matter he only mentions that the Voice from the Cloud said: “You are my son,” but never says: “I was there to see the Lord Transfigured.”
They call it Faith. Somehow, every once and again, when we loose sight of ourselves — however many times in our lives that might actually happen — we do seem to be able to work as if the Lord was in the boat with us because he actually is. When that happens the next things we do is the work of God until the moment we realize that we are doing it. Then . . . we tend to sink.