Matthew 14:28-29 "Lord, if it's you," Peter replied, "tell me to come to you on the water." "Come," he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.
There have been many symbols of Christianity and of the Church over the centuries. We are all familiar with the cross, of course. And many people are aware of the fish as a symbol of the faith. In Mark 1 Jesus tells his first disciples, who were fishermen, that he will make them fishers of men. This and other references to fish in the New Testament led to the fish being an early symbol of Christianity, and one that has certainly made a resurgence in modern times.
Another important early symbol is less seen today -- the boat. Have you ever considered the church as a boat? This symbol has many scriptural bases. Moses and his family and the animals were saved on a boat. The early disciples, as fishermen, worked with boats. And it was from a boat that the Apostles saw Jesus miraculously calm a storm and also walk on water.
|Logo of the World Council of Churches|
Think of the sea's waves as the turbulence of sin and of a broken world. The boat -- the church -- is a refuge from that turbulence. It is a refuge but it is not a hiding place. Quite the contrary, we are encouraged to sail our boat out across those frightening waters in search of others who are floundering, needing to be saved.
The boat would not be carrying us if Jesus had not first entered our world. He broke into history first in Bethlehem, in that stable, over two millennia ago, but he continues to reenter our lives even still. He comes to us again and again, knocking at the door, seeking entry, and he asks only one thing of us -- to follow him.
When Jesus approached Simon and Andrew, and James and John, he invited them to follow him, and they did so. They had no way of knowing at that moment just what following Jesus would truly mean, but they could be assured then, as every day after, that he would always be there to protect them. Likewise, when Jesus appears, in Matthew 14, walking on the water toward his disciples in a boat, he calls upon them not to have fear. He was their source of all security. And so when Peter asks Jesus to call him out upon the waters, Jesus' answer is immediate -- "Come!"
We normally focus on what comes next. In a panic, Peter begins to sink, and Jesus has to grab him to save him, and gently chastises his lack of faith. However, pondering that passage, one has to ask what deeper meaning there might be here. Nowhere in the New Testament does Jesus perform a miracle just to show off. His miracles have meaning and symbolism, if not immediate comfort and healing. So why has Jesus chosen to walk on water? Why does he allow Peter to do the same?
I believe Jesus is teaching Peter, and us, a lesson. He teaches here that through true faith we can walk across the waves of sin and brokenness, and Jesus will sustain and lead us. That's what walking on water truly means. It is more than the ability to perform a physical miracle. Instead of sinking into sin and despair, you can rise above it. You can take the safety and security of your boat, the church, into places even the boat itself cannot go. Because Jesus is always there to lift you up, to sustain you and protect you.
The church is your boat. With Jesus piloting us, this boat can bring you through every turbulent storm you may face. It can ride the waves day after day. But the blessings don't end there. Because yes, the church is your boat, but when you walk out the doors, even you can walk on water.