Today’s Readings: Joshua 6:6-27, Psalms 135-136, Isaiah 66, Matthew 14
The ancient greeks used the word phantasma to describe the experience of dream visions or spirit apparitions. It’s the word that’s used in Matthew 14, when he describes how the disciples felt when they were in the boat in the midst of a storm and saw Jesus walking on water. As I read Matthew 14 this week, I anticipated this very feeling. The story of the loaves and fishes didn’t surprise me. Of course, we’ve heard this one since we were young. Having been to several potlucks myself, I can imagine sitting amongst the crowd, awaiting my turn to eat and being awestruck that there was something left. After all five thousand people had eaten, he sent the disciples in the boat to the other side of the lake. He dismissed the crowd and went up onto the mountainside to pray.
“Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he ad dismissed them, he went up ton a mountainside by himself to pray.” (Matthew 14:22-23)
He went by himself to pray. Did you catch that? I took that short phrase as my first and most important lesson today. Seeking solitude was an important priority for Jesus. He made time away from his “celebrity moments” to be alone with the Father. Spending time with God to nurture our relationship with him is critical. Jesus shows us here that disciplining ourselves to spend time alone with Him will prepare us to manage life’s challenges.
We know what happens next! The disciples are halfway across the lake in the boat when the water starts to get a little rough:
“But the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them…” (Mattthew 14:24)
Ever feel like the wind is against you, like you’re being beaten by the waves? Jesus sees that! He’s standing on the side of the mountain. We may feel alone in our boats. We may feel like we wish we hadn’t set out on that journey with a few of our best disciples and no leader on the ship! But the very best is yet to come:
“And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 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. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” (Matthew 14:25).
In that moment Jesus revealed himself to his disciples. He revealed himself to us as his people. He wants very much to be there with us and for us when our boats are rocking in the wind. But the disciples responded with fear. They immediately said, “It’s a ghost!” I think I would have too. I don’t know that I find myself worthy of a walking on water moment. Certainly Peter and the other disciples didn’t either. In fact it looks like Peter gives Jesus a little test. He tells him,
“Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water. He said, “Come” so Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt.” (Matthew 14:26-27)
What looks like a test is really an act of faith, right? Peter is the only disciple willing to step off that boat and meet his Jesus. He started to sink when he took his eyes off Jesus and focused on the menacing waves. Jesus reaches out and takes hold of him, right in that moment of his doubt. Jesus is not a phantasma, he’s not a ghost that comes in and out of our dreams. He’s not intermittent at all. He’s revealing himself to us every day. Walking on water isn’t just a thing that happened in 400 B.C. He’s leading us to him, but we must be willing to follow. I loved that there was a little message to me in Matthew 14 today. That short sentence that told us about Jesus going to the mountain to be alone with his Father. It’s a holiday weekend. We’re all focused on our potlucks, parties and fireworks. But JESUS is the real fireworks. There’s nothing phantasma about him. I hope you spend time today with family and friends but I also hope you take time to be with the Father. Reach out, take hold of him. He’s waiting to walk with you.