The story of Jesus walking on water in the Gospel of John is a very interesting tale. A bunch of fishermen are traveling across a lake at night. They’re about four miles out, and a strong wind comes up, and the water gets rough. They probably pretty much take this in stride, having experienced this sort of situation many times before. Though it’s always dangerous, there are certain ways you handle rough water and strong wind when you’re out on a big lake. There are certain things you just know to do.
But, look, here comes their Master, whom they left behind when they set out! He is joining them now, after they have already been rowing for quite awhile. And he does not arrive by boat; he comes walking. He comes walking across the surface of the water.
You can imagine what a terrifying apparition this is – a ghostly figure, wind-whipped. The storm is fairly ordinary; the fishermen can deal with that. But somebody walking on water? How would you respond? How would anybody?
Then Jesus identifies himself. And this is a curious thing. My footnote indicates that what he actually says is, “I am; do not be afraid.”
I am. This reminds me of another passage in the book of John (8:58) where Jesus says, “Before Abram was, I am.” It is also, of course, reminiscent of God telling Moses at the burning bush, “tell Pharaoh that I AM sent you.”
It is a short-hand testimony to who Jesus really is. It shows us that this story is not just about him walking on water. He is God incarnate, the Word, the light of the world, he who has penetrated the nature of being, who has participated in the unfolding of the universe since the beginning of creation.
What a thing to take into your boat! I do not for a second believe it was a calming, peaceful presence. In an elemental way Jesus IS the storm.
And when he names himself, well, you can imagine the whole cosmos responds to his voice. “I am. The incarnate God. The Word made flesh.” How can it not be so that, once his followers recognize him, their journey is over. They are at their destination.
Whether or not we remember to invite him, the incarnate God, the cosmic Christ, walks on the waters of our hearts. He comes to the little boats of our consciousness, where we’re doing our best to deal with the storms handed to us by our lives. In the privacy of our inmost souls he tells us, “I am. Do not be afraid.” What a profound message! Straight away it takes us where we need to go.
Laurie Gudim is a writer and religious iconographer who lives in Fort Collins, CO. You can view some of her work at Everyday Mysteries.
Image: Gustave Doré [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons