Here is my transcript of Fr. John Riccardo preaching on Matthew 14:22-33. (Click here to listen to the podcast version.)
Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ, send your Holy Spirit now upon us all. Help our ears to be attentive now to Your voice and to those things that You wish to say to each of us. Put Your words in my mouth, that I might get out of Your way. This we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Eyes up! Put your eyes on Me. Those words, or rather, that command is what I’ve been hearing all week as I’ve been praying with this Scripture, and I am convinced that the Lord wants to say it through me and to all the rest of us. Put your eyes on Me. Not me [Fr. Riccardo]. Him. Let me tell you how I got there by going through the Gospel, which is remarkably relevant for our lives.
This Gospel is the continuation from last week. Last week, if you might recall, as you all recall, Jesus fed the 5,000 miraculously with the two loves and the five fish. This is immediately afterwards. So, it’s evening now. It’s 6 o’clock or so. Jesus makes the disciples get into the boat, and then He sends them into the sea. That’s important to remember. And while He does that, He dismisses all of the crowds. And then He goes off, alone, on the mountain to pray. And while He’s off alone on the mountain to pray, the disciples are out, on the sea, in the boat, all alone. No Jesus. Soon, there’s no light.
And soon comes a storm. This is no little storm. The translation we have is, um, pathetic, let’s just say. It’s rather ambiguous the way it got worded in the Gospel that we just heard. The boat is ‘tossed about by the waves,’ it could be a nice, relaxing tossing, or it could be something else. The Greek word actually means, ‘tortured,’ by the waves, ‘harassed,’ by the waves. For how long? Jesus dismisses the crowds, makes them get into the boat while it’s evening, roughly 6 o’clock. And all of a sudden, from the middle of this storm, comes this figure, walking on top of the sea at, Matthew says, ‘the fourth watch of the night.’ What’s ‘the fourth watch of the night’? What does that mean? That means somewhere between 3 and 6 in the morning. What’s that mean? That means they’ve been against these waves, which have been torturing the boat, for some 10 to 12 hours. Ever driven in a thunderstorm where you can’t see out the windshield? Ever driven in a thunderstorm for 10 to 12 hours? Imagine the anxiety, the tension, their internal state as they see this figure walking on top of the sea. And so they cry out, and Jesus says, ‘Courage. It’s I. Do not be afraid.’ Literally, ‘I forbid you from fearing for one more second.’
And then, Peter does the unthinkable. Peter says, ‘Lord, if that’s really You, call me, and let me walk.’ And, so, Jesus says, ‘Come.’ And then Peter gets out of the boat. Imagine what that must have been like, as his foot hovers on top of a lake, in the middle of a storm. And he begins to do the un-, not only the unthinkable, but the impossible. He walks on top of a lake, which is symbolic, because the sea, for the ancients, is the place of the dominion of the evil one. It’s symbolic of walking on top of fear. And, so long as his eyes are up, so long as his eyes are on Jesus, Peter walks. But the Gospel says that he began to see the wind, to look around at the waves, to see the lightning, to hear the thunder. And the moment his eyes are off of Jesus and on the circumstances around him, again, our translation is a little pathetic. It says he, ‘sank.’ He didn’t sink. It’s more literally he ‘plunged into the depths of the sea and he drowned.’ And as he’s drowning, he cries out, ‘Lord, save me!’ And Jesus immediately grabs him with his grip and jerks him up out of the lake. And then Peter hears these words from Jesus. ‘Oh, you of little faith. Why did you doubt?’
The tone there is everything. That’s the challenge in reading the Scriptures. We can’t hear the tone. That’s why I hate e-mail. I can’t hear your tone, and you can’t hear mine. You can read this as if Jesus says [yelling in an angry voice], ‘WHY’D YA DOUBT?!’ But, of course, He doesn’t speak like that. God doesn’t talk like that. We talk like that. He doesn’t. Instead, it’s more a plea. ‘Son, why’d ya doubt? What were you afraid of? Don’t you know Me? Don’t you know your life is in my hands? Don’t you know my grace is sufficient for everything? Don’t you know that I am greater than this storm? Don’t you see how much I care?’
So, what could that possibly have to do with any of us? Huh, well, we want life to be easy, don’t we? Life is never easy. We live in the illusion that once this is over, things will settle down. But after this, that comes. And after that, something else comes. All of life is a storm. We are constantly ‘assaulted,’ ‘harassed,’ ‘tortured,’ by waves, meaning we have endless opportunities to be afraid and to be anxious. And Jesus says to you and me right now, in the midst of whatever storms are going on in our lives, ‘Eyes up. Put ’em on me.’
When I consider my sin, I drown. When I consider my health or the health of those I love, I drown. When I consider all the pressures that are on me at work, I drown. When our eyes are on any of the many things that are going on all around us, we just plunge into the depths of the sea and begin to sink.
Storms are a given. They will not end, and, in fact, God, in His great love and in His severe mercy, sends them. He sent the disciples into the storm. He wanted to remind them that they are in need. He wants to remind us that we are in need. But even more so, he wants to remind us that we have a Savior, and His love for us is beyond anything that we can imagine. And His power is literally beyond all comprehension.
Let’s pray for ourselves and for each other, mindful that we are all getting ‘harassed’ by the waves. Let’s pray that the Lord would keep our eyes up, fixed on Him, on His cross, on His mercy, on His power. Let’s pray that He would banish from us, by His grace, and by His power, all fear and all anxiety.