13 August [19th Sunday in Ordinary Time]
Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid." Peter answered 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, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!" Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" When they got into the boat, the wind ceased.
Water is the source of life. "On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem," said the prophet Zecheriah (14:8), prophesying the new age. "Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water," said Jesus (John 7:38), echoing many passages in the Scriptures.
Yet water also reminded the Jews of the Deluge of old and was therefore a symbol of destruction. The prophets used this symbol of the chaotic sea to speak about coming disasters. In its depths lurked "Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent… the dragon that is in the sea" (Isaiah 27:1). Water, then, is a symbol of both life and death. (Both of these meanings are merged in baptism; by immersion in the baptismal waters we die to sin and self, but emerge into new life.)
In today's reading Jesus appears out of the night, "walking toward them on the sea." It is a symbol of his triumph over chaos and evil. The scene is full of symbolic association. Peter, the chief disciple, ventures into this dangerous element, and makes his way while he keeps his attention on the Lord, but he sinks once he begins thinking only about danger. With him it was an experiment: "if it is you…." 'If' is an expression of doubt, not of faith.
Peter's cry for help is a pure expression of prayer. Christians have long meditated on this. Here are some brief reflections from the great 19th-century preacher, C.H. Spurgeon:
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