Wednesday, August 06, 2014

even better than good news: a reflection on being out of my depth

This week at chapel I led the community. With the lectionary text being the story of Jesus walking on water (Matthew 14:22-33), I began to reflect on being out of my depth

Last year in the Semester break, we as a family had a mid-winter Cairns holiday. The highlight would the Great Barrier Reef and for months we had pumped up the kids – how exciting it would be to swim in the ocean, see the fish and relax in the sun.

The day arrived and the weather was lumpy. It’s about two hours by boat to get out from Cairns to the Great Barrier Reef. One of Team Taylor doesn’t do waves well and breakfast duely disappeared.

But this was a family highlight and we keep the kids pumped up. How exciting it would be to swim in the ocean, see the fish and relax in the sun. We arrived and set anchor and duely jumped overboard.

Within about 30 seconds I panicked. I got hit by a wave. I got pushed by the current. My snorkelling face mask got filled with water. I lost contact with my kids. The safety officer on the boat starts whistling at me to stay within the safety area. We’re miles out to sea and the waves are slapping and we’re swimming in deep water and there’s no bottom for miles.

I panic.

Apparently I’m in good company. Bill Bryson in his book on Australia, (In a Sunburned Country) writes of numerous tourists, often men, who step confidently off a boat on the Great Barrier Reef, only to experience significant fear once they’re actually realise how deep they are, with no bottom for miles.

The Bible text, verse 24, say that the disciples are in deep, with no bottom for miles. The Greek is literally “stadios pollous” – many stadia – and a stadia is 100 metres and there are many stadia. Lake Galilee is 5 mile, 8 kilometres across and they are many stadia in the deep.

The disciples are in the deep because Jesus has stayed to pray. This doesn’t make sense to me, I’m not sure how Jesus plans to get across the lake if he’s sent the boat on ahead.

It’s only the second time in Matthew that Jesus is actually recorded as praying. This also doesn’t make sense to me. I would’ve thought Jesus prayer life would have been more important to Matthew.

When the disciples see Jesus, they think he’s a ghost. This also doesn’t make sense to me. He’s your boss for goodness sake and you’ve given up a lot to follow, so surely you’d recognise him.

Peter wants to join Jesus. That’s verse 28 “If it’s really you, command me to come.” This also doesn’t make sense to me. Why wouldn’t Peter stay warm and dry? So the disciples are in the deep and their fear is significant and many things about this passage simply doesn’t make sense to me.

This passage occurs in cluster of passage between chapters 13 and 17 that are doing two things. First, they’re telling us about Jesus. That’s the punch line is verse 33. Truly you are the Son of God. This shouldn’t make sense to me because this about God and by definition God won’t always make human sense. Second, these cluster of passages are telling us about us. That disciples, real dedicated, take up your cross disciples, don’t recognise Jesus. That leaders, real dedicated, take up your cross leaders, at times have little faith.

So this is the good news. That we’re in deep. With no bottom. Which often causes grown men to panic. That Jesus still comes to us. That our levels of faith and our ability to recognise Jesus doesn’t seem to matter. Because Jesus is God. Truly God.

Which is good news for people of faith. That Jesus is God and comes to us.

Which is better news for people who, like Peter, have moments of very little faith. That Jesus is God and comes to us.

Which is even better news for people, like the disciples, who struggle to recognise Jesus. That Jesus is God and comes to us.

May the words of my mouth, and the mediation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O God.

Posted by steve at 06:16 PM


  1. A great picture book to go with this (because I’m using it with a similar theme this week) is The Deep by Tim Winton, Illustrated by Karen Louise

    Comment by Darren — August 8, 2014 @ 10:47 am

  2. Thats really helpful Darren. Wish I’d had that on Wednesday for chapel. Oh well, next lectionary round in 3 years 🙂


    Comment by steve — August 8, 2014 @ 11:18 am

  3. I actually used the same book a number of years ago in Gunghalin where I got the entire congregation to build a boat out of what we could find, what ended up happening was we built this boat that no one wanted to leave, sat around and spoke of our fears, the kids went out for a Sunday school thing and the adults all said “can we stay in the boat?”

    Going to do something similar but want to talk about times where we find ourselves in a bit too deep.

    I love the Tim Winton book though… Keep giving it away and having to find it again…

    Comment by Darren — August 9, 2014 @ 7:19 pm

  4. Truth be told…
    One of my favourite lectionary weeks…
    Get to play Violent Femmes (Jesus walking on the water)
    Get to play Paul Kelly (Deeper Water)
    Get to read Tim Winton

    Comment by Darren — August 10, 2014 @ 12:32 pm

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