The Transfiguration gospel of last week and this week’s gospel of Jesus walking on water each reveal something about Jesus’ true identity.

In last week’s gospel the appearance of Moses and Elijah with Jesus, their luminescence and the voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’ (Luke 9:35) each points to Jesus as the Promised One. The historic figures, his illumination and the voice each affirm him as the Christ: God’s self-communication to the world.  

Perhaps surprisingly to some, these two gospels are not only about who Christ is but about the nature of the Kingdom to which we are invited.


This morning’s gospel (Matthew 14:22-33) addresses Jesus’ true identity from a different perspective.

It opens right after Jesus had fed the five thousand with five loaves and two fish.

Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd.

After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone…

One can imagine him saying something gentle like, ‘Have you had enough to eat? Good! Now it’s time to go home and get your rest… And recall the things I told you.’

Throughout the gospels Jesus balanced his pastoral work with prayer. He had fed the crowd, but he needed some time for himself. His self-care involved contact with his Father.

He had to fit regular prayer into his life or risk burning out. Prayer and care were different expressions of the same mission. Jesus renewed himself and his mission in communication with the Father.


The gospel continues,

…and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.

Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

The Sea of Galilee is prone to sudden violent storms. The weather may have been fine when the disciples set out but changed during the night. Peter, Andrew, James and John were sailors and more familiar with the whims of the sea, but others, such as Matthew were not. The disciples probably used a fishing boat which was not large and, with twelve people in it, was likely so close to the waterline that they were taking on water from the waves. ( It would have been a challenging night for even the experienced fishers and terrifying for those who were not used to the water.

Aside from that, through the rain they saw Jesus walking on the water. They must have thought they were crazy: “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. With his words, Do not be afraid, Jesus addressed their basic instinct. He understood their fear but his presence, walking on the lake, reassured them.


“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

Peter, ever the impetuous, blurted out his request, without thinking it through. He got out of the boat. He would have understood buoyancy and he knew that he was defying it. He had faith in Jesus. Yet, the improbability of walking on water, himself, wore off in a moment, which is why he earned Jesus’ rebuke, “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

Faith in Jesus to do the seemingly impossible was requisite.


And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Not only did Jesus master gravity and buoyancy on a personal basis he calmed the storm, an external, existential threat.

Jesus’ own disciples, rather than a voice from heaven, proclaim Jesus’ true identity. “Truly you are the Son of God.” During the Transfiguration, Jesus took Peter, James and John, whom the voice instructed to Listen to him. But here, the disciples, themselves, proclaimed it. To them, the evidence was clear.


The stories of the transfiguration and walking on water reveal Jesus as the Son of God, the Promised One, the Christ. They also give us a sneak peek into the Kingdom of God. In the gospel of transfiguration, time collapses. Past and present become one. Moses, Elijah and Jesus appeared together, yet Moses had lived roughly 1300 years before Jesus, and Elijah approximately 800 years before Jesus.

In this morning’s gospel the laws of physics are alterable. Not only did Jesus walk on water, but so did Peter, however briefly on his own, then supported by Jesus. In the Kingdom, God’s control over the seemingly immutable facts of our current lives will be on display.

The wonders of the Kingdom are not restricted to these two gospels. The four gospels reference the Kingdom 162 times. Jesus held it out as a promise of love, justice, sufficiency, rest… and other graces. However we conceive of it, we can read these gospels and wonder at God’s creative and managerial capacities over his world.


  • Balancing the needs of daily life and prayer is a challenge, regardless of one’s state in life. Parents of young children have to be constantly aware of their needs and probably fall, exhausted, into bed at the end of the day. A household of teens provides a different set of demands, in addition to work life. As we age, navigating infirmities and even basic living become more of a test, and it tends to crowd out prayer. Yet between the lines we see that Jesus made communion with the father an important part of his busy life. Where and how does it fit into your life?
  • Think of a time when you have been terrified that your life was threatened. Then recall the relief when you realized the threat had passed. Can you put yourself into the disciples’ place and imagine their relief at seeing Jesus coming to them across the water?
  • When have you ‘gotten out of the boat’ to walk in faith? Reflect on that experience.