16 Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
Matt. 14:22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25 And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Matt. 14:28 Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Do you remember trying to learn to ride a bike? I was five and parents bought me an orange and black, Schwinn Swingline bicycle with a banana seat and tassels on the handlebars. I remember my parents taking it out of the car and showing me how to hold it, how to make the kickstand work, and how to stop by pushing backwards on the pedals. Do you remember trying to learn to ride a bike? I remember standing putting my leg over the crossbar and rocking back and forth a little. There was power and possibility! I was afraid and excited all at the same time. I don’t remember a word my parents said, but I remember looking down to make sure my feet were on the pedals, and I remember first my mom and then my dad walking with me, their hands on my handlebar and my shoulder, and then running with me as I pushed on the pedals. At some point, my folks must have taken away their hands, but I don’t remember when it was they let go. Do you remember learning to ride a bike? Or maybe you remember teaching someone else how to ride a bike? As we read today’s passages, I find myself thinking Jesus is teaching the disciples about spiritual life like I learned to ride a bike. Jesus is there, showing them what to do, and then Jesus is gone. In fact, Jesus was constantly disappearing—much to the consternation of his disciples—and then reappearing when they least expected it. Why did Jesus disappear and what can we learn from this “bad” habit?
First, Jesus disappeared for some Father-Son bonding time. As some of you know, I generally take Wednesdays off. The theory is that since I am working on Sundays, that I need to another day off to make up for it. When each of our kids was small, I would often take them out of day-care and we would have some Father-Child bonding time. With Morgan, it was learning about fish in aquarium stores. With Jordan, it was learning about animals at the zoo or playing on the playground. With Caleb, it was going to parks, house-cleaning or shopping. I looked forward to it all week, and I think the kids did too. These days, my Wednesdays are often finding my Dad and seeing what he’s up to. One reason Jesus disappeared was to find His Dad and see what he was up to. Jesus used his time off as soul time, something that added to His relationship with His heavenly Father. This time mattered so much to Jesus, that He would disappear after big days—like feeding the 5000 or a busy day of healing and being with people. Jesus also disappeared before big days—like the night before He picked the disciples, Jesus went away to pray, and after being baptized, Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness in preparation for His ministry. In the same way, we all need to have time off when we disappear from the rest of our duties in order to have some Father-Child time with our God to recover from or prepare ourselves for big things.
Second, Jesus seemed to disappear so that He could reappear at just the right time. On at least one occasion, Jesus disappears and comes back to find the disciples struggling with a healing or among themselves. He reappears at just the right time to coach them through the healing or to help them see how clueless they were being. In our passage today, Jesus is on the mountain praying, while the disciples are out on the lake, rowing against the wind, getting beat up by the waves. Then suddenly they see Jesus walking on the water and they are scared. Jesus says, “Take heart, it’s me; don’t be afraid.” As some of you know, I was chemistry major in college, and worked a year as a chemist out in LA. It was a year of misery for me and wondered what God was doing a lot that year—I was a little distracted by a beautiful woman named Cynthia—but was profoundly lonely. When my grandfather was killed by drunk drivers, I remember taking a walk and God rushed in—at just the right time—to help me realign my life. “Take heart, it’s me, don’t be afraid.” Jesus seems to disappear sometimes, just so that He can reappear at just the right time.
Why was Jesus constantly disappearing? Like me learning to ride a bike and finding my parents no longer steadying me, I wonder if Jesus disappeared so that the disciples might get used to Jesus being physically gone. Though I could not feel my parents’ hands on my handlebar and shoulder, it was like their presence still steadied me. Was it like that for Jesus’ first friends? At first, Jesus was gone for a few hours or a night. Later, Jesus would ascend into heaven and be physically gone the rest of their lives. But they were ready when the training wheels finally came off, they knew they were not alone—they could still feel the hands of the Master, still know the steadiness of His Presence. Maybe all along God has been preparing us through our times of disappearing to be with Him for the moment when the training wheels will come off? And Peter could remember a time, when Jesus invited him to step out of a boat and walk on water, could remember how when he looked at Jesus he was doing fine. Peter could remember what it was like to look at the wind and the waves and begin to sink into his fears, only to have Jesus raise him up. In those times when Jesus seems most absent, when we are at our driest and loneliest, battered and broken by the storms of life, there will come a time when Jesus will suddenly reappear and invite us to step out with Him onto the water. May we be ready to respond like Peter, “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.”