“It is I, Do not be Afraid.”
By Rev. Canon David B. Tabo-oy
23And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, v24but the boat by this time was a long wayb from the land,c beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. v25And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. v26But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. v27But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” – Matthew 14:23-27
The past three Sundays we heard Jesus’ teachings through parables. He travelled around the villages surrounding the Galilean Lake preaching, teaching, healing the sick and doing miraculous acts such as the multiplication of the fish and loaves in our gospel lesson last week. His schedule was very hectic and always with a big crowd that they do not even have time for themselves. It was with this frantic schedule that Jesus decided that it was about time to rest and be recharged. He then instructed his disciples to go to a deserted place. But much to their surprise, maybe even dismay, they found that a crowd has gone ahead to that place and were waiting for them. Jesus saw the crowd and was deeply moved by compassion. That compassion was translated to action by the now famous multiplication of the fish and loaves that fed more than 5,000 people. The four gospels recorded the miraculous event which is unusual or rare occurrence. This fact, I believe, underscored the significance of the event. Not just because of its miraculous or supernatural nature but of its meaning or message about Jesus’ mission. He came not only for spiritual wellness but also concerned about the physical well-being of the person. “I came that you may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10.10).
Immediately after the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus made his disciples get into the boat to go before him to the other side of the lake. For the second time, Jesus and the disciples would want to be by themselves. Another reason of Jesus sending his disciples ahead indicates that the people were ready to take Jesus by force and make him king because of the miraculous feeding of the multitude (Jn. 6:14-15). Jesus therefore sent his disciples across the lake while he slipped away into the hills and pray.
Despite the demands and fame enjoyed by Jesus because of his work he found time to pray. This is one jewel of a lesson we can learn from this incident in Jesus ministry: the importance of prayer. Prayer is the process of addressing God for the purposes of praise, adoration, thanksgiving, petition, penitence, and so on. But more often than not, we only remember how to pray when we are in need. The pandemic situation today calls us to this example of Jesus. We are too busy worrying what happens next or when COVID-19 will be purged. We are too preoccupied of the inconveniences of the health protocols and the movement restraints as a result. In a given normal situation, we are too busy and worried of this life’s coming and goings. Work, work, work to make money and more money – we struggle to be ahead of others – the rat race in the human race. Because of these we forget to address God – we forget to pray.
Now the disciples were terrified because their boat is being buffeted by strong winds. It is at this moment that Jesus appeared by their side walking on the water. But instead of being encouraged, the disciples were the more terrified. Popular Jewish superstition held that the appearance of spirits during the night brought disaster. The disciples’ terror was prompted by what they may have thought as a water spirit according to their folkloric belief. And Jesus called on them, “It is I, do not be afraid.” He got into the boat with them and the turbulent winds ceased.
They were terrified instead of being encouraged because they did not recognize their Master. We too, in many situations are like the terrified disciples. We are terrified because we do not recognize Jesus who is with us. We too, are sailing in this life’s rough waters. Aside from the unbridled socio-economic and political burdens that we contend with, we are in a very precarious situation of the rampaging pandemic. We have no choice but to navigate this life’s uncertain and stormy waters. Our faith is our vessel. Is Jesus in our vessel as we sail on these life’s ocean, calm or rampaging waters? Do we recognize Jesus as our Lord and Savior? This reminds me of a Sunday School song that goes, “With Christ in my vessel… I can smile at the storm… Until He leads me home.”
‘They had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened” (Mark 6:52). Had they understood the feeding of the 5,000 by the miraculous multiplication of the fish and loaves, they would have been amazed at Jesus’ walking on water or his calming of the rampaging waves, ‘their hearts were hardened.’ They were showing themselves to be similar to Jesus’ detractors, who also exhibited hardness of heart. It is admitted that there are countless signs and proof throughout human history about Jesus as Lord. Yet, because of hardness of heart people fail or refuse to understand and accept the message of the Good News and Jesus’ lordship overall creation. Humankind loose heart when the unexpected and unbearable such as the COVID-19 pandemic alter the smooth sailing in this life’s ocean. May our hearts be not like the disciples’ that we may understand and accept Christ’s message.
Prayer…. Alone. While on earth, Jesus often sought time to be alone with God. Time alone with God is essential to the spiritual well-being of every believer. The lack of desire for solitary prayer to and communion with our heavenly Father is an unmistakable sign that the spiritual life within us is in a process of decline. If this is happening, we must turn from all that offends the Lord and renew our commitment to persevere in seeking God and his saving grace and traverse victoriously even the worst that this life has in store for us.
Don’t be afraid…. In this life there are many things to fear, yet Jesus wants us to look unto him and not be afraid. His words of encouragement are founded on his limitless power and intense personal love for all who truly belong to him. Often in Scripture, God or Jesus Christ encourages his people, “do not be afraid”.
Having said all these we are called to the following truths: Prayer is important to meet the demands of this life. We are sailing in life’s rough waters; our faith is our vessel. If Christ is in our vessel, we have nothing to fear despite the dangers and uncertainties of life. We can understand and accept Christ and his message if only our hearts is free from hardness. Sail on brothers and sisters!
Let us pray.
Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (ECP-BCP Proper 14 Collect)**