Background on the Gospel Reading
Today’s Gospel directly follows last week’s account of Jesus feeding a crowd of more than 5,000 people with just five loaves of bread and two fish. For the sake of the crowds, Jesus had postponed his time of solitude. Now, at last, Jesus finds some time for quiet and prayer. He sends his disciples ahead of him by boat, dismisses the crowds, and then withdraws to the mountain to pray.
The disciples do not fare well. They struggle to weather the wind and waves, making little progress in their journey. We are reminded of a previous story in Chapter 8 of Matthew’s Gospel, when Jesus calms the seas. This time, however, Jesus does not calm the seas, and the disciples do not express fear until they see Jesus walking toward them on the water. In this story it is not the storm that is feared but the sight of Jesus before them, whom they mistake for a ghost.
Clues like these suggest that this story is about the disciples’ growing understanding of the identity of Jesus. In continuity with last week’s Gospel about the feeding of the multitude, today’s Gospel is also about what the disciples’ faith in Jesus will enable them to do. In last week’s Gospel, when the disciples see the crowds, they ask Jesus to send the crowds away. Jesus turns the situation around, telling the disciples to feed the crowd with the provisions that they have. Both of these Gospels tell us much about ministry.
Jesus calls to the disciples and calms their fears. He is not a ghost. The impulsive Peter seeks proof that the person is indeed Jesus. He asks Jesus to call him out onto the water, and Jesus grants this request. Peter’s fear and doubt overtake him, however, once he is walking on the water. Jesus reaches out to Peter and saves him. When Jesus and Peter enter the boat, Matthew reports that the wind ceases, and the disciples confess that Jesus is the Son of God.
Faith in Jesus will enable the disciples to do the work that Jesus has done. Peter walks on water. The five loaves and two fish feed a multitude of people. The disciples can and will participate in the work of the kingdom of heaven. When Peter fears and doubts the person of Jesus, however, he falters. Peter’s example teaches us that true Christian ministry emerges from the faith that Jesus is the Messiah, God’s only Son.
Courtesy of Loyola Press