If Jesus did walk on water, then we rid ourselves of one problem – the questioning of the historical accuracy of the Biblical account. But we create another - a Christ who only pretended to be human. Because humans can’t walk on water. We can of course protest that Jesus is the Son of God and can do anything, but the moment we do that we open up a whole other set of problems around why Jesus does not do a whole heap of other things that might be felt more useful, like ending wars or saving children’s lives. If we do not want to turn the human Jesus into a capricious divine figure masquerading as a human being, we might have to accept that he did not in fact walk on water.
So, what about this story then? How are we to read it? Well some scholars resolve the problem quite neatly by declaring it to be a misplaced resurrection story. This makes a lot of sense. This is why the disciples for examples are afraid and think they are seeing a ghost. However, I do not think that is the whole answer...
We can read this story as a parable about the church, about discipleship and therefore about us. In our own context, we can read this as being about any seemingly impossible and overwhelming ministry we might undertake. We meet today during Fair Trade Fortnight, that draws our attention again to the injustices of our economic system and the problems of slavery, that are only exacerbated by our current health crisis. Such seemingly intractable issues buffet us like waves and ask us again to keep our eyes on Jesus and keep walking.
For faith, interpreted as trust is what is vital. This is why Jesus asks Peter, ‘why did you doubt?’ He’s not questioning Peter’s intellectual assent to any kind of doctrinal assertion. He’s asking why he stopped trusting. Even – or perhaps especially – in times such as these, justice is possible; love is possible; peace is possible. And indeed, in these contexts we can walk on water – when we keep our eyes on Jesus and trust that beyond every death, lies resurrection. In the name of the one who teaches us to walk on water. Amen.
by Penny Jones, for Sunday 9 August 2020