Gospel of Matthew 14: 22-27 (NIV)
22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
25 During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.
27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
This account, also recorded in the Gospels of Mark and John, is followed by Jesus’ invitation to Peter to step out of the boat and to walk to Jesus on the surface of the lake. That was a remarkable invitation, the more so because we know the boat was “buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it” and that the wind did not abate until later: “And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down” (verse 32). Remarkable too was Peter’s courage, faith and willingness to step out of the boat!
This short reflection, however, focuses on Jesus’ initial words to those in the boat, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
The Gospel of John lists seven so-called “I am”* statements of Jesus. John wanted to ensure his readers would recognise a deep truth behind each statement. He intended too that his readers would see how bold was each of Jesus’ claims in the face of constant opposition from Pharisees and teachers of the law. Jesus’ deliberate reference to the pronouncement that YHWH made to Moses through a burning bush, “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3: 14), was not lost on those who heard him, whether in Galilee or in Judea. What is not as obvious to us today is that precisely the same words in Greek that Jesus used when he said, for example, “I am the bread of life” were the words he spoke to his disciples in the boat buffeted by the waves “Take courage! It is I.” Actually, Jesus said to them, “I AM”.
Much happens around us to suggest that life, the world and even creation are out of control. As disciples of Jesus we are to take his words to heart. We may accept them as being addressed to each of us individually today: “Take courage! I AM.” There is a beautiful continuity about this: the Triune God was, is and is to come. We are no more alone and at the mercy of the elements (or of other people) than were the disciples when Jesus sought to comfort them as, in the boat, they were tossed by waves and wind. He says to us as he said to them, “Take courage! I AM. Don’t be afraid.”
*The “I am” statements of Jesus from the Gospel of John are considered to be:
bread of life (6:35, 41, 48, 51)
light of the world (8: 12; 9: 5)
gate for the sheep (10: 7, 9)
good shepherd (10: 11, 14)
resurrection and the life (11: 25)
way, truth, life (14: 6)
true vine (15: 1, 5).