Gospel Mt. 14:22-33
The first part of this episode (vv. 22-27) is very like Mk 6:45-50. The incident of the walking on the waters is closely connected with the feeding of the five thousand in the synoptics and in John. It is night-time and the boat is beaten by waves. In the Old Testament, [God] is the one ‘who trampled the waves of the sea’ (Job 9:8; see 38:16; Ps 77:19; Sir 24:5). As Matthew relates it, the story is certainly symbolic. The boat represents the Church; the disciples are threatened by evil (dark) and death (the waters). Jesus is not with them, physically — but he is praying to the Father (v. 23). In their need he comes to them, like [God] striding over the waters. But they are of little faith and fearful and they panic (v. 26). Comfortingly, he reassures them. ‘It is 1’ — the Greek phrase ego eimi, in this epiphany context, may have some suggestion of the Johannine ‘I am’ sayings. In Ex 3:14 ‘I am’ is a title of [God], signifying his saving presence with his people. Jesus, then, does what God does, and speaks as God speaks.
Matthew alone adds the further episode (vv. 28-33). Peter, addressing Jesus as ‘Lord,’ seeks to share Jesus’ power. He steps out confidently at first but, shaken by storm and stress, he loses heart and sinks. Yet he does still cry to the Lord — and Jesus reaches out his saving hand. Peter has merited the rebuke of Jesus (`you of little faith’): he had hesitated and panicked. He is, typically, a disciple in this present life, caught between faith and doubt (28:17). The rebuke reaches to all of us who start out courageously, only to lose heart. When Jesus (and Peter) got into the boat ‘the wind ceased’; his presence brought calm and peace. Those in the boat (the Church) bowed down in adoration of their God.
Underlying this Peter-story is, very probably, the disciples’ experience of the risen Lord who had come to restore their broken faith after his Passion and to bring them comfort. For Matthew, the whole passage manifests the power of faith which flows from the saving presence of Jesus. To eyes of faith, Jesus is not a ghost from the past but Son of God of the here and now. He is presence of God among men and women, sending them out into the world to bring peace and true human community.
The major theme for actualization that emerges from this text is identity — that of Jesus and of the disciples. The rich biblical background of the account needs emphasis among those who seek only the spectacular. The picture of Peter is a consolation to all Christians who recognize that they like him as yet have only a ‘little faith.’ The epiphany of Jesus and his power to save those in distress provide the basis for courage in the face of the recognition of ‘little faith’ (Daniel J. Harrington S.J., The Gospel of Matthew, Sacra Pagina 1, Liturgical Press, Collegeville MN, 1991, p. 228).
The Gracious Word: Commentary on Sunday and Holy Day Readings, Wilfrid J. Harrington, O.P., Dominican Publications, Dublin, `95.