The story of Jesus walking on water was given a significant place in the oral tradition of the early church. It was integrally linked to the feeding of the 5,000, and when finally the oral tradition was documented, all four gospels recorded the two stories together. Only Matthew adds the account of Peter's "little faith".
v22. There is some difficulty in knowing where Jesus sent the disciples. It is most likely that he sent them North to Bethsaida while he remained behind to dismiss the crowd. Presumably he intended to join the disciples before they set out for the Western side of the lake, but he was delayed due to an extended prayer time (possibly also because the crowd tried to make him their king, cf. Jn.6:15). So, the disciples set off across the lake without Jesus.
v23-24. Somewhere in the middle of the lake the disciples are "buffeted" by a Westerly wind. The dark powers of the surging deep were seeking to overwhelm Christ's little community of faith.
v25-27.The disciples then see Jesus walking on the water. They think it is an apparition and are filled with fear. Jesus calms them and declares "It is I". This is probably an allusion to the great "I am" of Exodus 3:14 and so serves as a pointed self revelation by Jesus. In Mark's record of this event he says that Jesus "was about to pass by them." This is a rather strange comment, given that Jesus was obviously coming to them because they were in distress. What we have here is an allusion to the time God passed by Moses at Sinai, cf. Ex.33:19, 22. So, the miracle is a theophany, a manifestation of the divine.
v28. Peter now gets into the action. Peter's words "since it is you" indicates his belief that in Jesus' power he can share in this miraculous event.
v29-31. All goes well until Peter focuses on the storm rather than Jesus. As he begins to sink he calls out, "Lord save me". Again, words with an Old Testament ring to them, Ps.18:16, 69:1-3, 144:7. Because of his doubt, driven by fear, Peter is called a man of "little faith."
v32-33. The climax of the story is not the stilling of the storm, but the confession of the disciples. The feeding of the 5,000 and Jesus' walking on water, proclaim him as the long awaited messiah, the Davidic king, the prophet like unto Moses. This is the first time the disciples address Jesus as "Son of God", so it is a moment of high comprehension which will continue to deepen as time goes on.
v34-36. This episode illustrates that all the people, not just the disciples, share in the blessings of "the coming one." In faith they need only touch the hem of his garment to be saved.
My son-in-law was a member of the Boys Brigade when he was young. At their church parades they would often sing the great old hymn "Will your anchor hold in the storms of life?" The person who ran the brigade was a sailing enthusiast and so hymns with a maritime twist were always in his top twenty. When my son-in-law married my daughter, he chose as their wedding hymn his old favorite. I'm not quite sure how appropriate it was, but then it was a change from that terrible hymn "O perfect love", which happened to be the hymn my wife and I chose, or should I say, had forced on us at our wedding. Given that marriage is never smooth sailing, his hymn was probably more appropriate than most.
It's very easy reading the story of Jesus walking on water and thinking it's all about stilling the storms of life. How nice it would be to have a storm-free life, but there is no such promise in the scriptures. Maybe it's a story about faith. Unlike Peter, if we keep our eyes on Jesus we will stand above the life's troubles and survive. How true! yet this is not really a story about faith overcoming all odds, a victory of positive thinking, an all-things-are-possible lesson. Nor is it a "how to succeed in business without really trying" story. The story of Jesus walking on the water is all about our anchor holding in the storms of life, of reaching that heavenly port at journey's end; it's about salvation in Christ. Using another image from our passage, it's all about the sick finding healing by just touching the edge of Jesus' cloak; "and all who touched him were healed."
By walking on water and feeding 5,000, Jesus conjured up a powerful image of the Exodus. Jesus was like Moses feeding the people with Manna, like God passing before his people, like Israel itself passing through the waters into the promised land. The wonderful truth is that with Jesus we can be that people, passing through the waters into a land flowing with milk and honey. An eye on Jesus, a touch of his cloak, is all that it takes.
So, don't look to the waves, look to Jesus, and let him take you to that distant shore.
How is it that the "wind" can so easily prompt "little faith"?