My dear friends in our Lord: Glory to Jesus Christ!
In today’s Gospel we are given a great many practical lessons in the spiritual life. It is fitting that we take a look at them all, for the more numerous and varied the lessons and the ways of understanding, the more the desire for such instruction grows, and wishes for even more; one cannot become satiated when feeding one’s heart at the spiritual feast of the holy Gospel. At this banquet table of divine instruction and grace, the ways of understanding never run out; rather, they are multiplied and they increase. Though they are ever offered and ever served, their abundance never fails. For grace is inexhaustible; in being given it is multiplied, and in being poured out it abounds; never is it lacking. So let us hear today’s Gospel:
At that time: Jesus obliged His disciples to go up into the boat, and to go before Him over the water, till He dismissed the people. And having dismissed the multitude, He went into a mountain alone to pray.
Our Lord “obliged” the disciples, because they did not wish to leave Him, or to get into the ship and go on ahead of Him to the other side of that country. They understandably would have rather always remained with the Lord, even as He dismissed the people, and as he went up to the mountain to pray.
Our Lord rather acted in this way to teach us that we should not always mingle with people, nor should we always flee them, but we should do both one and the other alike, as may be beneficial. Having sent the people away, the Lord went up into a mountain alone to pray, that we might learn that retirement and solitude are good when we wish to converse with God. For this reason the Lord often went into the wilderness, and often spent the whole night there in prayer, teaching us to love and seek that silence and solitude in our prayers which the time and place confer. For the wilderness is the mother of silence; it is a calm and a harbour, delivering us and freeing us from all turmoils and cares.
Our Lord did not pray as one being in need of anything, but rather as the great and righteous High Priest He offered prayers for us. As the holy Apostle Saint Paul says, We have an advocate and mediator with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and He is the propitiation for our sins. And it is also written, Our Lord is a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.
The Lord remains in prayer until evening, to show us that we should not attend to prayer hastily and carelessly, but display patience and perseverance. First, however, He taught and fed the multitude, and then He went to pray, demonstrating that, when necessary, it is proper first to speak that which is for the common good and to teach those who are present, and afterwards to go and pray; also, after eating it is fitting to lift one’s hands in prayer and thanksgiving.
And when it was evening, He was there alone. But the boat in the midst of the sea was tossed with the waves: for the wind was contrary.
The disciples were again storm-tossed and worry-worn, as they had been before. But whereas previously they experienced suffering yet kept Christ near them in the ship, now they are all alone, beset by the storm and upset, in order that they may learn to bear with fortitude all that happens and may become patient.
And in the fourth watch of the night, He came to them walking upon the sea. And they seeing Him walk upon the sea, were troubled, saying: It is an apparition. And they cried out for fear.
Our Lord does not immediately visit and help the disciples, nor does He quickly end the bad weather, the storm, and the distress which they felt; He comes to them only in the fourth watch of the night, thereby teaching them not to expect immediate deliverance from cruel and grievous afflictions, but to bear all occurrences with fortitude and resolve.
Moreover, the Lord wished to remind them of His former assistance to them at sea, when by His word alone He saved them from sinking and perishing. Therefore, then, He did not come to the disciples immediately, but in the fourth watch of the night, which corresponds to about three in the morning in the modern reckoning.
Thus, it was in the darkest hours of the night when the Lord came to the disciples, walking on the sea itself. The disciples, however, thought Him to be a phantom, because of the admittedly strange and unusual circumstances; they thought Him an aethereal spirit. They did not recognize His appearance, both because of the darkness of the night and because of the terror that beset them as they were tossed by the storm. They forgot about the storm and their fear, however, because they were now even more disturbed and shaken and trembling, so much so that they cried out. Just when they were expecting rescue and deliverance, fear fell upon them anew. But the Gospel assures us:
And immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying: Be of good heart: it is I, fear ye not.
Because the disciples did not recognize the Lord by His appearance, on account of the most wondrous manner of His arrival and also on account of the night, He revealed Himself by His voice, saying, Be of good heart; it is I; fear ye not. His words dispelled their fear and caused them to take heart.
It was as if He said, It is I, Who as God am able to make and to change all things; it is I, Who set for the sea bounds of sand and compassed it with the gates of My command. It is I Who, as you disciples have witnessed while previously crossing the sea with you, said to unto it, Peace, be still, and saved you by calming the raging sea.
And Peter making answer, said: Lord, if it be Thou, bid me come to Thee upon the waters. And He said: Come. And Peter going down out of the boat, walked upon the water to come to Jesus.
Peter said this to resolve his doubts and to find out for certain that it was not a phantom, but Christ Himself, Who can both walk on water and make others do the same. Furthermore, Peter desired to draw near to Christ as quickly as possible, even ahead of the others. We see that he did the same after the Resurrection; being more ardent, he ran to the empty tomb ahead of the others. For this reason the Lord bade him come, and spread out the sea before him, displaying His great power, such as is proper only to God. Thus, emboldened by his Master’s command, Peter leaves the ship and goes toward Him.
But seeing the wind strong, he was afraid: and when he began to sink, he cried out, saying: Lord, save me.
Having prevailed over what was greater, Peter failed in the face of a lesser thing; he who made bold to walk on the sea was afraid of the wind. Such is human nature; often, having accomplished great deeds, it is rattled by little things. Though Peter had the courage to set foot upon the water while its waves rolled mightily, he could not withstand the stormy wind.
The Lord was nearby, but being close to Christ is of no avail for those whose faith is lacking. As long as the blessed Peter did not doubt, and looked to Christ, he was borne by the sea, held up. But when he turned his eyes to the wind then he would have drowned quickly, had he not once more directed his imploring gaze to Christ.
And immediately Jesus stretching forth His hand took hold of him, and said to him: O thou of little faith, why didst thou doubt?
Note that our Lord did not command the winds to cease and the seas to be calm, but rather in the midst of the wind and seas stretched forth His hand and took hold of Peter. Truly our Lord shows that the noise and disturbance of the wind was not the cause of Peter’s sinking; rather it was his faint-heartedness and lack of faith which caused him to sink. Thus, our Lord did not rebuke the sea, He did not rebuke the wind, but admonished Peter for his lack of faith. If Peter’s faith had not faltered, he would have easily withstood the wind also, and would have felt no fear at all.
Again, when our Lord had taken hold of his hand, lifted him up and set him upon the water, He still let the wind blow, to show that it was not the wind that did Peter harm; his lack of faith is what sank him. Where faith is fruitful, firm, and strong, none of the evils that may befall us can do us any harm.
And when they were come up into the boat, the wind ceased. And they that were in the boat came and adored Him, saying: Indeed Thou art the Son of God. And having passed the water, they came into the country of Genesar.
Not only Peter was freed from fear, but also they that were in the ship were released from their own turmoil and fear. The wind ceased, it says, and they recognized our Lord. Seeing once again the winds subject to Him, and Him walking on the water, they confessed His Divinity and worshipped Him as God.
By His walking on the sea, and commanding Peter to do so, and saving him from danger, the disciples’ faith was increased. Earlier He had rebuked the sea; now He did not rebuke it, but He demonstrated in another way even greater power: the ability to remain steadfast in the midst of all turmoil. And when they were gone over, it is further recorded in the Gospel, they came into the land of Genesar, or Genessaret, where with great might the Lord would heal the sick who came to Him.
Now, my friends, as we cross the stormy sea of this life, darkened in mind, spiritually sinking, let us not cease in our prayers and petitions to Christ our God to deliver us from any storms of body, mind, or heart. Let us not be submerged by lack of faith; even if difficulties extend into the fourth watch; that is to the very darkest hours of our life. Rather let us hope and trust that the merciful Lord, Who loves mankind, will not suffer us to be tempted above that we are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that we may be able to bear it. And then We shall hear Him calling out and saying, Be of good heart; it is I; fear ye not.
If, even after we have heard such words from Him, trials and temptations arise, and the tempests of evil spirits blow mightily, raging against us and afflicting us, and we are upset by the waves and their fury, the Lord will reproach our faint-heartedness, but will also stretch out His hand to us and grant us complete calm. Let us, then, cry out loudly with Peter’s words, Lord, save us. And if we are willing to receive Christ into our ship; that is, to have Him dwell in our hearts; we shall immediately find ourselves at the land to which we are hastening: the land of Christ’s peace and healing.