A short reflection on Matthew 14:22-33 , the Gospel lesson for Proper 14a, according to the Revised Common Lectionary.
Biblically, the “waters” are the physical incarnation of “chaos,” and as such they so often serve as a medium over which God shows His power.
In the beginning, the Spirit of God hovered over the waters, just before God called forth the light out of the darkness. Then the waters from above were separated from the waters below. And, of course, the waters were separated from the dry land – whereby God commanded the waters that they were not to come any further past the boundary which He established.
When humanity truly fell apart into depravity, God called on the waters, and they came. He It rained, of course, but the waters from under the earth also burst forth like geysers, covering the earth and making one great sea.
Much later, the waters of the Red Sea are divided, so that the children of Israel could walk through on dry land, beginning their sojourn to freedom and the Promised Land. The waters were piled up, on either side side in great walls of water till they came tumbling down again on Pharaoh’s army.
We can’t control water when it rages. Hurricanes, typhoons, floods, tsunamis – they wipe away everything in their path. There is no holding them back. When the ship is tossed to and fro on frothy seas, there’s nothing much to do but hold on, or call in a Coast Guard helicopter.
We can’t control water. But…God can. It’s one of the ways that we see in the Bible that God is the King of All Creation. Large-and-in-charge. We can’t stem the tide of chaos, but God does.
Jesus’ walking on the water is a vestige of this. Like the “I Am” sayings in the Gospel of John which harken back to the story of Exodus where God gave His Name to Moses at the burning bush, the walking on water is a demonstration that Jesus’ story is intrinsically bound together with the story of the God of the Hebrew Bible. By calming the roiling sea, and strolling out to the disciples atop the lilting waters, Jesus is showing Who He Is.
He’s harkening back to the story of Creation. He’s harkening back to the story of Noah, and the first covenant with all living creatures. He’s harkening back to the story of the Exodus.
He’s saying “Here I Am! I’m the New Creation. I’m the New Exodus. I’m here to set you free and make a New Covenant with you!”
And…he’s saying that the storms that rage in us, and around us…the chaos which swamp us and bring us down so low that the seaweed begins to wrap around our feet and not let go…well that chaos can be tamed. That storm can be calmed.
And Jesus is just the one to do it.