Homily for April 17th, 2021: John 6:16-21.
What began as a routine evening crossing of the lake soon turns into a nightmare for Jesus’ friends in their small boat. When they see a human figure approaching across the storm-tossed waves it is small wonder that they “began to be afraid.” It is Jesus. “It is I,” he calls out. “Do not be afraid!”
Like most people in antiquity, Jesus’ people, the Jews, regarded the sea as the domain of supernatural, demonic forces. To the Hebrew mind wind and waves were perilous: only God could master them. Repeatedly the psalms speak of God’s power to “rule the surging sea and calm the turmoil of its waves” (Ps. 89:10; cf. 93:3f; 107:23-30). By walking on the raging waves, and calming the stormy sea, Jesus shows himself to be acting as only God can do.
This beautiful story speaks to each one of us individually. Somewhere in this church right now there may be someone facing a personal crisis: an illness, perhaps, your own or that of a loved one; a family problem; a humiliating failure; the sudden collapse of long held hopes, plans, and efforts. You are filled with fear. When you look down, you see only peril and ruin. But look up! Keep your eyes on Jesus. He still has power to save.
The story assures us that when the storm rages and the night is blackest; when we cannot see the way ahead; when we are bone weary with life’s struggle and our hearts fail us for fear, Jesus is close. He only seems to be absent. In reality he is never far from us. He knows at every moment the difficulties against which we contend. Across the storm waters of this world he comes to us and speaks the same words of assurance that he spoke to the terrified men in that small boat: “It is I, do not be afraid!”
That, friends, is the gospel. That is the good news.