A rabbi, a priest, and a minister go out fishing in the middle of a lake. The priest needs the toilet and gets out of the boat and walks across the water, goes to the loo and comes back. About 20 minutes later, the minister also needs the toilet. He too gets out of the boat and walks across the water and soon comes back. 20 minutes later, the Rabbi also needs the toilet. He steps out the boat and goes splashing into the water, arms flailing about. The minister turns to the priest and says: “Do you think we should have told him where the stepping stones were?
In our passage today, where we read the story of Jesus walking across the water, we pick up where we left off last week. In last weeks passage, Jesus was looking for some solitude, inviting the disciples to come away with him to a lonely place where they would be able to find rest.
Jesus was looking for a quiet space. But as we saw last week, his plans go awry and he is intercepted by the crowds. Now, Jesus’ need for quietness and solitude has become more pressing.
He sends the disciples back across the lake in the boat. He dismisses the crowds and he goes up into the hills to pray.
In the solitude and in the stillness of the hills, we read that Jesus is alone. And in his alone-ness in the hills, Jesus is spiritually refreshed. He is able to re-tune himself to the still presence of God at the heart of life. He is able to reconnect with the Presence of God.
I find it interesting looking at the English word, alone. It is a combination of two words: All and One. Alone. All-one. It suggests that if we are open to it, that being alone, and being in a lonely place (like Jesus in the hills) carries with it an invitation to ‘one-ness’, to becoming ‘all-one’, to find an inner unity where all the fragmented parts of ourselves can come together again.
Introverts in particular are aware of this. Introverts, often after being in a crowd of people, or after an intense social occasion, need time alone, in order to find their centre again. In order to feel their fragmented sense of self coming back into some sense of unity.
Remembering the Jewish emphasis on the One-ness of God, ‘aloneness’ can an opportunity to find Unity or One-ness with the Holy One – God, the Divine Presence.
Jesus sends the disciples back in a boat. He dismisses the crowds. He goes up into the hills, alone, by himself, to pray.
When was the last time that you deliberately sought out a quiet, lonely place, in order to feel the presence of God in the stillness? Sometimes, I find just sitting for a few minutes, silently in the car before getting out, or driving off for my next appointment is such a moment for me. A moment to just be still in the middle of the day and in the stillness to have a sense of touching, or being touched by the Presence of God.
Secondly, we see in this passage, symbolic or picture language, are the effects of prayer and stillness in the Presence of God.
From the hill-top, Jesus looks down over the lake and he sees the disciples struggling.
“When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and Jesus was alone on the land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn, he went out to them, walking on the lake.”
It is quite a contrast. The disciples are straining at the oars, fighting against the wind and the waves. Jesus comes along serenely walking on the water. It is wonderful and rich in symbolism.
The description of the disciples is a wonderful metaphor for how we often live our lives. Straining, struggling, wrestling with the wind blowing against us, fighting against the waves of life.
In contrast, Jesus, after a night, soaked in prayer, soaked in the stillness of God’s presence, has some been in touch with a presence that transcends the struggles and difficulties of life. In Jewish symbolism, the sea was a symbol of chaos. Jesus after a night of prayer, walks over the waters of chaos.
In Psalm 29 there is a line that speaks of God who is enthroned above the flood. Jesus is in touch with the one who is enthroned above the chaos.
I am reminded also of the passage in John’s Gospel: “In this world, you will have trouble. Do not fear, I have overcome the world.”
In the story, when the disciples see Jesus, they think he is a ghost and they become afraid. In response to their fear, Jesus says “Do not be afraid, it is I”. It is an interesting phrase, because as the Living Translation points out, it could also be translated, “Do not be afraid, The I am is here”.
We are reminded that “The I am” is the name of God revealed to Moses at the burning bush.
In the midst of the struggles of life. In the midst of the winds and waves of life, Jesus reminds us that the I am is Here. The I am is with us. God is here.
When we entrust ourselves to the Great I Am, who transcends the winds and waves of life, we do not have to struggle and strain and wrestle with life like we used to, constantly fighting with life, constantly resisting the difficulties that come at us.
And so, when the wind and the waves of life are against us and we find ourselves struggling and straining and wrestling with life, may we, like Jesus, find opportunities to figuratively speaking go up into the hills and be alone, and there, to encounter the I AM who is also here, even in the midst of the wind and the waves. AMEN.