29 April [St Catherine of Siena]
When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.
As in other cultures, water had a double meaning for the Jews of old: it was both a benign and a destructive element. God is “a fountain of living water” (Jer 2:13); but on the other hand, the enemy can be “like an overflowing torrent” (Jer 47:2). They especially feared the chaos of the sea, which brought remembrance of the Deluge.
The associations were likely to have been of the second kind for the disciples caught in a storm at night on the Sea of Galilee. Then Jesus appeared “walking on the sea.” They were terrified, but he said, “Don’t be afraid, it is I.” It Greek, the words are ‘ego eimi’, “I am.” This recalls the divine “I am” of Exod 3:14. A constant theme in the Old Testament is the power of God over the sea. It was by such power that he delivered them from the Egyptians in the Exodus. Clearly John wants this association to be present to the reader.
What meaning can this strange story have for us today? This one occurs to me: the Lord can come to us in the least likely medium. We seat ourselves on the solid ground of common sense and logic, but he is well able to do without them.
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