This Sunday, we read Matthew's version of Jesus walking on water, calming the storm, and inviting Peter to walk with him. Perhaps there are two complementary reasons for this story: (1) to serve as an epiphany story and (2) to serve as a short teaching on the nature of discipleship.
First, an epiphany story. At the end of the story, after Jesus has both calmed the storm and rescued Peter, the disciples proclaim, "Truly you are the Son of God." This is reminiscent of the transfiguration story, among others. Something happens that reveals, or makes known, to the disciples the deeper reality of Jesus the Christ. I have to wonder if Matthew added this last part of the story in light of the proclamation of the church of which he was a part. In any case, Matthew's community saw in the inherited stories of Jesus evidence that Jesus was, indeed, the Son of God, leading, of course, to the christological development that saw Jesus as the second person of the Trinity.
Second, a teaching on discipleship. By the time that Matthew compiled his Gospel, the early Christians would be all to familiar with persecution because of their faith. In ancient literature, the stormy sea often represents the forces of chaos and evil. Certainly, it represents here the difficulty of living as a disciple of Jesus. Jesus comes to the disciples in the midst of the storm, thereby reminding the disciples that God will not abandon them in their quest for faithfulness. In addition, and significantly, it is not Peter's faith, but the saving presence of Jesus that matters. Peter's lack of faith does not doom him. It merely creates opportunity to participate in Jesus' divine power.
Okay, so we have an epiphany story combined with an exhortation on discipleship. How does it speak to you today? First, it is a reminder that God has made God's self present to us in a unique and dramatic way through the life, teaching, and early proclamation of Jesus. Second, this same Jesus, through whom we experience God, asks not that we perfect our faith but that we trust in the presence of Jesus. All of us go through difficult times, whether as a result of our faith or simply because we are subject to the complexity of human experience. Part of our challenge is to trust, to believe that God is with us, that God loves us, that God has a purpose for us, and that God will use us to accomplish God's purposes in our world.
"You are the Son of God." And because you are, I am going to step out in faith, believing that you are with me and that you will catch me if I fall. That is good news to all of us who seek to be disciples of Jesus, who seek to participate in the "God project" of bringing about the reality of God's reign here on earth!