Ghosts on the Waters
The Word in the Wild, Proper 14, Year A
By the time you read this, I’ll be off toward the deep wilderness with my laptop left behind. For this week’s lectionary reflection, I’ve adapted an essay I wrote on this Sunday’s Gospel lesson in the midst of the COVID pandemic. I think it still applies to our condition and I hope you find it helpful in your own reflections. I’ll be back next week with a fresh essay on the readings for Sunday, August 20.
Immediately he made the disciples get into a boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (NRSVUE)
In our Gospel for this Sunday, we find the disciples at night on a boat. They are traveling across the waters, a place that was certainly familiar to them, but also alien. Far from the shore is never a safe place for humans to be. We are, at the end of the day, land animals, and whenever we are high in the air or out in the water we are vulnerable and deeply dependent upon the technologies that have brought us there.
It is night, the waves are stirred by the wind, and the fragile boat creaks with their force. We are not told if it is a cloudy night, but it seems that there is a storm, and so we can imagine that it is dark with no starlight, no moon. But the main action of our story comes when that dark is just beginning to fade, when the dawn light is breaking over the horizon. The refractions that form color may not be apparent just yet, but shapes can be made out, the water, the distant shore, and then something out upon the waves.