When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself. 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.
Why did they do it? The disciples had just seen Jesus feed a multitude of people with 5 barley loaves and two fish—quite a stunning feat! So why, after that, did those 12 men jump into a boat and in spite of the darkness, the strong wind and the rough sea, head across the Sea of Galilee, leaving Jesus to fend for himself ?
Were they irked, perhaps, that Jesus had not let the crowd “take him by force to make him king?” If he was the Messiah, then why not let the people crown him as their king? Yes, they knew he kept talking about “his time not yet having come,” but…what was he waiting for? Here had been a perfect opportunity, and Jesus had blown it by wandering off to a nearby mountain for some solitude and prayer. And this delay, of course, meant a delay, not just for him, but also for all their hopes and dreams of the special positions of honor and power they would be awarded in his kingdom. Did Jesus not appreciate their loyal service? Apparently not. Well, let him wander off then. They would simply leave him be and take care of themselves, thank you very much!
Or were they, perhaps, simply tired? It had been a long day, after all, crowded with travel and with needy, hungry people that Jesus had insisted they feed. Yes, certainly it had been impressive to watch Jesus take the loaves and fish and distribute them to that huge crowd. But then they, the disciples, had had to be the ones to clean up all the mess the crowd had left. And what a mess it had been! Maybe those disciples just wanted to get home to grab some much-needed sleep.
So off they went into the stormy night, probably cursing the wind, cursing the waves, and maybe even cursing their Master for his mysterious and often annoying ways.
And then that terrifying figure walking across that stormy sea. A sea demon? A ghost about to turn them all into ghosts?
“It is I. Do not be afraid.” The silence as Jesus stepped into their boat and calmed the raging storm. The even greater silence as those disciples heard his voice, his “It is I,” Έγώ ϵἰμι, “I am,” the very name of the God the 12 had worshiped from their earliest years.
The quieting of that vicious storm was the second amazing miracle the disciples witnessed that day. No wonder they were stunned into silence. But it seems to me that there’s yet another miracle in this story, a third miracle, a miracle hidden within the folds of the miracle of the stilling of the storm. That miracle is the reality that Jesus came to them at all! Came to the very men who had abandoned him just a few hours before, leaving him stranded on the far side of the Sea of Galilee.
Miracle indeed. And isn’t this a miracle that repeats itself in our own lives as well, over and over again? We often “leave” our Lord for a time for any number of reasons. Sometimes we just want to pursue our own agendas, our own concerns. Sometimes it’s because something has annoyed us about the way the so-called followers of Jesus behave. Sometimes we’re just tired of trying to love God with all our hearts, trying to love our neighbors as ourselves. We just need a break—want to have a little fun in our lives. Sometimes we may be a bit irked with Jesus. He seems to have wandered off into the mountains again, instead of responding to our longings and needs, and we are not pleased.
And then he shows up. In our weakness. In our neediness. In our careless self-centeredness and forgetfulness. In our anger. Jesus comes to us. Comes to us with his simple, powerful presence. Comes and speaks the word we so need to hear, “Έγώ ϵἰμι. It is I. Do not be afraid.”