Today’s gospel reading (John 6:16-24) tells the story of Jesus walking on the water. It’s a familiar story, perhaps because it appears in three of the gospels — Matthew, Mark and John — and in its Matthean version, it happens to be the story on which I’ll be preaching this Sunday. Because of this, I’m a little more attuned than I would normally be to some of the unique insights that we’re given in each writer’s telling of the tale.
In Mark’s version (Mark 6:45-52), for example, we’re told that when the disciples were struggling in the storm that had arisen on the lake, Jesus came to them walking on the water, and “he was about to pass by them” (verse 48). This, it must be confessed, seems like a rather odd way for Jesus to respond to his disciples’ predicament — unless, as some scholars suggest, the language of “passing by” is the language of “theophany.” Just think of when God placed Moses in the cleft of a rock so that Moses could see the Lord’s glory as the Lord “passed by” (Exodus 33:22) — or about the time that God told Elijah to go and stand on the mountain because “the Lord is about to pass by” (1 Kings 19:11). Perhaps we’re being told — not that Jesus intended to sneak by his followers unnoticed — but that he intended to use the storm in which they were struggling as an opportunity to reveal his glory.
Then, in Matthew’s version (Matthew 14:22-32), we’re given the “bonus story” about Peter’s request to get out of the boat and come walking to Jesus on the water. And naturally, there are many lessons offered there about faith and fear and where we focus our attention in the midst of the storm. But since this is my focus for Sunday, I’ll hold off on that discussion for now.
And then we get to John’s version, which is the only one to tell us that after Jesus had gotten into the boat, “immediately the boat reached the shore where they were headed” (verse 21). And once again, that seems like a rather odd to detail to mention — unless, perhaps, John is trying to tell us this: When it comes to the journey of discipleship, the place to which you’re headed might not be as important as the One you travel with. And as long as Jesus is “in the boat,” you’ve already reached the shore.
I pray that any storms you face today will prove not to be too threatening. But even more, I pray that you’ll feel the presence of the One whom the winds and waves obey. May His glory give you courage to “step out of the boat” and exercise faith when He calls you to do so. And may you find that your journey is taking you to the exact place that the Lord wants you to be.