We’re going to reflect on Matthew’s account of the storm at sea. He begins his narrative with a quick introduction. “After he had fed the people, Jesus made his disciples get into a boat and precede him to the other side (of the lake) while he dismissed the crowd” (Matthew 4:22). Look closely at this introductory statement. Jesus had just performed an incredible miracle. He fed five thousand men, not counting the women and children, with five loaves of bread and two fish and, after everyone had eaten, there was enough food to fill twelve baskets with what was left over. But immediately after the left over food had been collected Jesus MADE his disciples leave the scene. He directed them to get into a boat and go to the opposite side of the lake. He remained behind to dismiss the crowd. Why would Jesus want to separate himself from his disciples?
If we look to another account of the multiplication of the loaves and fish we can come up with an interesting answer. “When the people saw the sign he had done, they said, ‘Truly this is the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world.’ Since Jesus knew that they were going to carry him off to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain alone” (John 6:14-15).
We have to remember that the Jewish population was not happy under Roman rule. Periodic insur rections occurred and were brutally suppressed. The feeding of the five thousand could have stoked up the people’s hope that Jesus was indeed the messiah who would lead Israel to independence. Matthew reported an incident involving James and John. Their mother came to Jesus pleading that they be placed in the two top positions of his kingdom. (Matthew 20:20-28) The other Gospels also report the disciples bickering over which one of them would take a place of honor in Jesus’ king- dom. They, along with the people, expected Jesus to set up a Jewish kingdom that would be free of Roman domination. This miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fish could have become dangerously political.
Jesus dismissed his disciples demanding that they meet him on the other side of the lake because he most likely feared that they would become intoxicated by the people’s excitement. His kingdom wasn’t an earthly kingdom at all. There would be no conquering armies. There would be no first or second in command.
Jesus’ kingdom, the new Israel, would be built on the foundation of the old Israel, and would continue to be nurtured by God. More profoundly, perhaps, the twelve baskets of bread and fish that were left over represented God’s first gift to all those who would internalize the kingdom, Jew and Gentile alike. Jesus’ kingdom would conquer the world through self-sacrifice and loving hearts.
While Jesus walked along the shore of the lake to meet with the disciples, they were in their boat making little headway because of the strong wind of a sudden storm. Jesus had sent them away from the political storm, but another and more powerful storm struck them. It was a crisis of faith. It was the fourth watch of the night when the storm was at its strongest. The night was divided into four watches. The fourth watch was between 3 am and 6 am. This was considered the “darkest” time of the night. Even today, the night shift in a hospital is called the “death” shift.
Though the kingdom was to be built on selfgiving and loving hearts, it doesn’t mean that Jesus’ disciples would cruise through life continually enjoying the sun and fine weather. The disciple had to have a strong faith in Jesus. This incident at sea testified that he would continue to journey with them even through the darkest of times and the strongest of storms.
Consumed by their fear, the disciples couldn’t believe that Jesus was walking toward them oblivious of the strong wind and the rough sea. Instead of being joyful upon seeing him they feared him, thinking that he was a ghost. But he broke through their fear by encouraging Peter to walk on the water with him. Peter did walk on the water until his faith weakened and the sea began to swallow him. But Jesus reached out to him. A mere touch of his hand was enough to save him.
John’s Gospel relates a powerful teaching that Jesus presented at the Last Supper, one we must never forget. “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world” (John 16:33b). We will all face storms. Not one of us will go through life without experiencing upheavals and crises. Sometimes even our lives or the lives of people we love may be in danger of being swallowed up by the dark waters of the world. Our faith is the only thing that will save us. We must always look beyond the storms that will come We must, as true and committed disciples, keep our eyes focused on the kingdom Jesus promised because our faith is the leaven that Jesus mixes into the darkness of the world. Eventually it will grow. Eventually it will conquer the world transforming it into the kingdom “so that God may be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28b).