Lesson 5 - Stormy Water - Faith
Introduction: The author of the study offers us an excellent overview of the usual interpretations of this text. There are multiple references to Psalms and other passages which link Jesus to God (pg. 42) and look at the passage as a theophany (an appearing of God). She also makes note of Jesus saying “It is I” and the connection of that phrase with God’s “I AM” from Exodus. The author also does a good job covering a variety of ways of seeing faith (Trust, Faithfulness/Fidelity) (pg. 43ff). What I want to do is to offer a couple of other perspectives for your consideration.
The Exodus: In a previous lesson we had looked at water as chaos. In the Old Testament one of the examples of this is the sea which confronts the Israelites as they were preparing to escape. On one side of them were the Egyptians who wanted to enslave them once again. On the other side of them was the water which would destroy them. Moses, raising his staff on God’s command, parts the sea and the people have to have the courage to walk through it. Often we take this stroll between the waves for granted, yet it would have taken great courage to see the water piled up, ready to swoop down, as it would on the Egyptians.
I would like us to consider this as a model for what happens in the story of Jesus walking on the water. I offer this because in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is portrayed as the new Moses. Thus the disciples play the role of the people who are to follow him. This story is a slight reversal of the Exodus story. Here the disciples are asked to go through the water without Jesus. We see just how difficult this is with the wind and waves against them…they are making no progress. Along comes Jesus, this time walking on the water rather than parting it.
When Peter comes out of the boat he is demonstrating the faith of those Israelites who followed Moses between the waves. He is willing to go where Jesus is going, making headway against the storm, which the boat is not. But unlike the Israelites who managed to keep the faith, Peter cannot and the waves crash in. He has lost his faith that the chaos around him can be controlled by Jesus or God. So he sinks.
Fortunately this is not the end of the story. Jesus saves him, just as God continued to save Israel by giving them water, food and clothing in the wilderness. Once Peter is back in the boat, Jesus calms the waves (parts the sea) and the disciples are able to make it to the other side of the lake. Jesus, as Moses, has once again freed God’s people.
What this says to me is that this story does not make any divine claims about Jesus (Matthew is a bit early for such references) and it does not break any new ground in terms of how faith is supposed to work (it looks very much like the book of Exodus). Instead it does two things for us. First it reminds us that even the great Peter (like his ancestors) was filled with both faith and doubt. Second it tells us that God is still there even in the face of our doubt, working to save us. These are the two great themes of the Biblical story.
Faith: In the lesson the author asks and answers two questions: what is faith and what good is it? IN this section she speaks of trust as active (floating) and as faithfulness and fidelity (tying both of those ides with both heart and mind). In fact she says faith has as much to do with our hearts as our minds (pg. 44).
My contention is that faith is more than heart and mind. It is what we do. In the book of James, the writer says that faith without works is dead. I would argue that James gets closer to the Jewish concept of faith than does this month’s article as well as most definitions that have come out of the western world. Just a note, that when Christianity moved from its Judaistic base to its Greco-Roman base there came this split between faith (mental/heart belief) and faithfulness (actually doing what we believe). This is not a distinction that Jesus would have made. Jesus as a good Jew would have seen faith as the actual doing of what we believe.
Thus when Peter steps out of the boat (note be does something) then he is showing the kind of faith the Israelites did when they crossed the sea. They did not stop in the middle and shout to God save us. They continued through the sea even though the waters were pile dup on either side. Peter however, seeing the wind and the water, falters. He was afraid and in essence quit walking. Then he began to sink. The doubt was not mental (as if it is mind over matter). The doubt was ceasing to act.
The challenge of faith then is what will we do, as much as what will we believe or mentally trust? What this means is that faith is not what we think we believe, it is what we will do about what we believe.
1. How do you define faith? How much is it a matter of heart, mind or action for you?
2. When has your faith been tested? How did that/those times impact your faith?
3. When has Jesus rescued you?
4. Have you had a moment when you “stepped out of the boat?” if so what was it like and how did it impact your faith?