Pastor Nelson Bonilla: 8-13-23 “Trying to be like Jesus.”

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Matthew 14:22-33

          When we read the biblical events carefully, we will notice that they were not written at the same moment when they happened, they were written many years later. Then, the questions that we must always ask when we interpret the Bible is, why the writer of the Bible shared this event and not others? What message does he or she want to pass on to his or her community?

            The story we read from the Gospel of Matthew for example was not written at the same moment when Jesus walked on water, but maybe 40 years or more later; it was written for a Jewish Christians community. Matthew is sharing this story at a time when his community as well as all Christians are being persecuted. By this time, Peter, one of the main characters of the story, has -most likely- been crucified. Then, why did the writer of the Gospel of Matthew think this story was important to be share with his community? This story of Peter, one of the most respected and well-known leaders of the church brought great comfort to the early Christians. While they were experiencing suffering and death, Matthew using this story was reminding them that Christ would save them even if they were in the midst of a storm/persecution.

            This story is a continuation of the feeding of the 5,000 miracle we read last Sunday. In today’s reading, Matthew says that Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd.” Jesus made; he forced his disciples to leave, and Matthew does not say why he did that. We have to go to the Gospel John, chapter 6 verse 15. In his version of this event, John help us to understand the reason why Jesus made his disciples go ahead while he dismissed the crowd. John says that Jesus fed the crowd and after they saw the miracle Jesus did, they wanted to “take him by force, to make him king.” It is possible that he sends the disciples ahead so that they cannot get caught up in the king-making effort of the crown.

            After he had dismissed them, -Matthew says- Jesus went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. While he was praying the disciples’ boat was already at a considerable distance from land, in the middle of the lake, Mark says. And the wind was against them. Until now everything looks normal for those fishermen who were in the boat, they had experience in that kind of weather. However, something out of normal will shortly happen. Matthew says that before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake.When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. Matthew does not say anything about the disciples being afraid of the wind. “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.”

            When Peter heard it was Jesus, he did something very Peter’s. He said, “Lord, if it’s you, “tell me to come to you on the water.” When Peter saw Jesus walk on the water, his reaction was like a typical disciple of his day. He wanted to be like his rabbi; he wanted to do what his rabbi does. The word for disciple in Hebrew is Talmid. And according to Ray Vander Laan who is a professor and founder of May the world know ministry, “This word stresses the relationship between rabbi (teacher or master) and disciple (student). A talmid of Jesus’ day would give up his entire life in order to be with his teacher. The disciple didn’t only seek to know what the teacher knew, as is usually the case today. It was not enough just to know what the rabbi said, but the foremost goal of any talmid -Ray Vander Laan says, was to become like the rabbi and do what the rabbi did.” End of the quote.

            After Jesus heard Peter’s request, he said “Come.” Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water, and came toward Jesus.” Peter took a huge risk and stepped out of the boat onto the wind and waves just to be -and do- like his Rabbi. I can only imagine what the other disciples thought of Peter when he stepped onto the water. They probably thought he was a fool and prepared for a rescue. But Peter didn’t care if he looked like a fool, and he ignored the wind and waves. As a result of this risk, he walked on water just like his rabbi.

            Most of the sermons I have heard make emphasis in what comes next: Peter sinking down and Jesus saying, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” As if Peter did not have faith in Jesus. I think that is unfair because what Peter did show a lot of faith. Out of the twelve, he was the only one who believed that if Jesus tell him to do it, he could. Therefore, instead of making emphasis in that, I would like to continue with Peter trying, risking even his life just to be like his rabbi, just to do what his rabbi did. Why do I want to do that? because the Book of Acts describes how Peter continue imitating Jesus throughout his life. In chapter 3, Luke the writer of Acts tells us of how Peter and John healed a lame man, Peter healed as Jesus did.  

            Acts 9:36-42, also tells the story of Tabitha, a disciple brought back to life by Peter after she was washed and laid out in an upper room, Peter takes her hand and commands her to get up, the same way Jesus did with Jairos’s daughter. Acts 10 tells us of how Peter responded to a centurion, a gentile’s faith the same way Jesus did in Matthew 8, when a centurion asked him to heal his servant. And even when it is not in the Bible, history says that Peter died crucified as his rabbi. We can say that Peter became a Talmid, disciple, someone who wanted to be and do as his rabbi in the middle of a storm.  

            Now, what can we learn from Peter? What can we learn from the story Matthew shared with his church? First, we can learn that in the middle of our storms, like Peter, we can find the courage to be like Jesus. Sometimes Jesus allows us, makes us go toward strong winds and calls us to take steps of faith. And instead of avoiding the storms, he challenges us to walk on water. And does not matter how far we walk on water; Jesus wants us to know that we can, because he is there to help.

            Like Peter, in the middle of strong winds of life, we can, -if we fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith-, discover the best of us. If you are experiencing strong winds against you, if at this moment you are struggling just to survive, do your best to be like Jesus, do your best to do what Jesus did. Remember, when he was at Getsemani, he trusted in his father’s will; when he was on the cross, he commended his spirit to God’s hands.    

            Second thing we can learn, we must believe in ourselves, as Jesus believes in us. When Jesus told the sinking Peter, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” it was not because Peter doubted Jesus, on the contrary, Peter stepped out of the boat because he believed in Jesus. When he saw the wind, Matthew says- he was afraid. Peter doubted himself; Peter doubted his ability. Peter fixed his eyes on his windy and rough reality, not at Jesus and that made him be afraid. Paul in Ephesians 4:13, also reminds us to believe in ourselves. He says, “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” (NSV). We can do everything.   

Too often, we, Jesus’s disciples allow the circumstances that surround us to rule our actions instead of responding to God’s promises and presence in faith. When the wind and waves threaten our lives we hesitate, unsure of ourselves and uncertain about the challenges. We forget that God believes in us, and we can do everything through Christ, who gives us strength.

Jesus trusts us just as he trusted Peter to step out on the waves. And he knows that we can achieve amazing things if only we remember that “the one who is in us is greater than the one who is in the world.” Yes, Peter sunk down, but Jesus was there. They went into the boat and the wind die down. At the end, Jesus showed his control over wind and waves and God’s “Grace was sufficient for Peter, for God’s power was made perfect in Peter’s weakness.”

Remember if wind and waves are threatening your boat, step out in faith, because supported by the hand of God, you can, we can even walk on water.

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