We are studying Matthew 14:22-33 for Sunday, June 27 – Matthew’s version of the story of Jesus walking on water, which includes Peter also walking on water, briefly. [Some notes on the text are here.] Here are some questions we might want to think about or discuss:
The place descriptions in this story might be a little ambiguous. It’s hard to tell whether the boat is far from the point of departure, or far from its destination, or both. It’s hard to tell what is meant by “the other side,” too. The traditional location for where they have been is Tabgha, near Bethsaida. Once they land, they seem to go right away to Genesseret, which is more or less southward along the lakeshore from Capernaum. [Here’s another map.]
All of which leads up to this question: how important is the specific location of the story, for us? Why? What are the most important elements of the location of the story? [For instance – that the story takes place on a body of water? Should we think about all the things that water means, like “chaos” or “danger” or “creative possibility”?] Why?
The time descriptions in this story are suggestive, too. The disciples have been on their own, in the boat, separated from Jesus, from the end of the meal with the crowd until early morning, maybe as early as 3:00 a.m. So at a minimum the story implies a long night of struggle with adverse elemental forces (wind, water), and without the immediate, visible or tangible, presence of Jesus.
[More personal] Does that sound like anything we have ever experienced ourselves? Would we want to talk about that?
[Still more personal] Does it make a difference to know that Jesus has spent this time in prayer? What difference? Why?
How significant is it that the disciples do not immediately recognize Jesus walking on the water in the early morning darkness? And are terrified of what they see? What does that mean to us?
Do we think the problem for the disciples is the physical situation in the story (it’s dark, they’re distracted, already stressed out, etc.)? Or does this problem recognizing Jesus seem more general?
[More abstract and theological] What keeps people from “recognizing Jesus,” do we think?
[More personal] Have we ourselves ever had a problem “recognizing Jesus”? Especially in the middle of some adversity? Would we want to talk about that?
One way to read this story is as an allegory of baptism. [And note that reading it that way does not depend in any way on whether we do or do not believe in “the veracity of the miracles.”] Jesus commands Peter to come to him “on the water,” Peter does that in faith – but also some wavering and failure, Jesus saves Peter from probably certain death by drowning, they all get in the boat (a traditional symbol of the church), and the disciples worship Jesus as the Son of God.
If we think about the story that way, what do we learn from it – About baptism? About Jesus? About the church? About ourselves and our own relationship to baptism and Jesus and the church? About what “supports faith”?
Does thinking about the story that way give us any new insights or feelings about the story itself, or about any of those elements of the story? What insights or feelings? Why?