Reading: John 6:16-24
When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened.But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading. The next day the crowd that had stayed on the opposite shore of the lake realized that only one boat had been there, and that Jesus had not entered it with his disciples, but that they had gone away alone.Then some boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus.
Next Sunday will mark the end of the Christian Calendar year as we celebrate Christ the King Sunday.
This morning’s reading follows the feeding of the 5,000 when the crowd intended to make Jesus king through force hence his retreating from them. He sent his disciples away from him for they too wanted him to take the mantle of kingship. Their understanding was incomplete. Jesus must first go the cross to fulfil God’s plan. He was not to become an earthly king but rather a suffering servant. It was on the boat as they left Jesus that the problems began.
Disaster movies often have that don’t panic scene. You know the one where the hero or the heroine is trying to organise the others to escape the oncoming disaster. Somebody always loses the plot, they start screaming about how they are all going to die. Don’t panic shouts the one in charge, often followed by a sharp slap to the cheek. Generally speaking, this is good advice though maybe not the slapping part, but certainly the don’t panic. We shouldn’t let fear paralyse us so that we do nothing. We shouldn’t let fear make us over-react so that we do lots of unhelpful things. Of course it is equally bad advice to stay too calm, too unruffled, when there is a true disaster shaping up. When we read John’s account it appears that the storm is not posing an impending disaster or crisis. These men are fishermen, they make their living from the lake. Look carefully it is when they see Jesus that they become terrified. This is an account of an incident in which John found, in a way that he would never forget, what Jesus was like. This is something that has lived with John, something that he obviously had thought about from the time of it happening until he wrote his gospel, somewhere in the region of sixty years later. Let’s set the scene. The disciples set sail. As Jesus sits alone, he could see they were toiling with the oars. The toiling disciples look up and see him. Shocked, amazed, somewhat unbelievable, something of how they might have felt. I imagine John the fisherman reliving the story; feeling that night again; the grey silver of the moonlight, the rough oar against his hand, the flapping sail, the shriek of the wind, and the sound of the surging water, that unexpected appearance of Jesus, the sound of his voice across the waves. John did more than remember he recognised that Jesus continues to watch over them. Even in this quiet time they were in his heart. When we are up against it Jesus watches over us too. He doesn’t step in making things too easy for us. He lets us fight our own battles and win our own victory. Any parent will remember watching the school sports day, you watch with great enthusiasm, you encourage as much as you can, you may cheer or weep depending on the outcome. The one thing you cannot do is run the race for the child. John saw Jesus come down from the hillside; he came, not unmoved, not detached. When strength is failing and life feels all too much for us, he comes with the strength for the last effort, that final push, the burst of energy that leads to victory. As John remembered it, as Jesus arrived so too did they. ‘the boat reached land at the place they were heading for’ is how the passage puts it. Isn’t it quite wonderful that here we have John the old fisherman turned evangelist finding all the wealth of Christ in the memory of a fisherman’s story. This Jesus who is always a comfort may not always be a comfortable companion. He would tell us to open our doors to the poor and the sick, to lay down our weapons and love our enemies, and to trust him to make it all work. I want to close by telling you a story about a small village school. The teacher had told the children this story of Jesus and his disciples at the lake. It was quite a while later when the village was hit by a blizzard, the wind was whipping across the playground and the snow was falling heavily all over the surrounding area. The decision was taken to close the school. As parents struggled to take the children home having to practically drag them through the drifts at some points. One mother nearly exhausted with the struggle overheard a little boy say, half to himself, ‘We could do with that chap Jesus being here now.’ And doesn’t that encapsulate the Gospel Yes, the unknown can be pretty scary at times. But listen carefully and you will hear these words, ‘don’t be afraid it is I.’