Year A 19th Sunday: Matthew 14:22-33

14:22   And at once he made the disciples get into the boat

and go on ahead to the other side while he sent the crowds away.

14:23   After sending the crowds away he went up into the hills by himself to pray.

When evening came, he was there alone,

14:24   while the boat, by now some furlongs from land,

was hard pressed by rough waves, for there was a head-wind.

14:25   In the fourth watch of the night he came towards them, walking on the sea,

14:26   and when the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified.

'It is a ghost,' they said, and cried out in fear.

14:27   But at once Jesus called out to them, saying, 'Courage! It's me! Don't be afraid.'

14:28   It was Peter who answered.

'Lord,' he said, 'if it is you, tell me to come to you across the water.'

14:29   Jesus said, 'Come.'

Then Peter got out of the boat and started walking towards Jesus across the water,

14:30   but then noticing the wind, he took fright and began to sink. 'Lord,' he cried, 'save me!'

14:31   Jesus put out his hand at once and held him.

'You have so little faith,' he said, 'why did you doubt?'

14:32 And as they got into the boat the wind dropped.

14:33 The men in the boat bowed down before him and said,

'Truly, you are the Son of God.'

Context & Information

This story takes place immediately after the multiplication of loaves. Things happen in a fast tempo. Three times we hear the word ‘at once’ (vss.22.27.31).

The fourth watch was between 3.00 and 6.00 am.


In the Biblical culture the sea is the symbol of chaos and anti-creation. Often it means threatening and death. In the story of Exodus God’s people are saved because the sea disappears for a moment (Exodus 14:21-22). In the book of Jonah the prophet is thrown into the sea and dwells in the monster of the sea for three days  (Jonah 1:11-12; 02:1). In Mathew’s Gospel we heard earlier that Jesus sent the pigs with the unclean spirits to the bottom of the sea: that is the place where evil spirits are supposed to be. When the author of the last book of the Bible, Revelations, describes the new heaven and the new earth of the latter days he says, ‘And there was no longer any sea’ (21:1). So what does it mean when we hear that Jesus is walking on the sea?

It reminds us of texts of the Old Testament which describe God’s might. Job 9:8, ‘God has trampled on the back of the sea.’ Or Psalm 107:29, ‘God reduced the storm to a calm, and all the waters subsided.’ Or Isaiah 43:16, ‘Thus says YHWH who made a way through the sea, a path in the raging waters...’

Jesus does as the God of the Bible does. That is confirmed by the words he speaks, ‘Don’t be afraid’. These are the classical Biblical words when God (or his angel) appears in the life of human beings (for example Luke 1:30). And what is more: Jesus presents himself to the disciples with the Biblical name of God, ‘I am’ (vs.14:27). Peter confirms it: ‘When you are...’

Picture meditation

The artist preserves the centre of his picture for the moment Jesus saves Peter. He emphasises that by wrapping Jesus and Peter in a yellow cloud.

Above these two men we sea Jesus during the night, indicated by the moon in the upper right corner, walking on the water in the direction of his disciples. He waves to them. Top left we see the reaction of the disciples in the boat; intensified by the waves which come over the boat.

On the right the boat of the disciples without Peter. In the middle of the threatening sea Peter takes his refuge with Jesus. Or perhaps it is better to say that Jesus makes himself a refuge for Peter. I notice the big hands of Peter and Jesus who is much taller than Peter; that is not only because Peter is sinking. Jesus is leaning over Peter. I try to find words for the expression of Jesus’ posture.

In the lower left corner we see Jesus and Peter in the boat again. Peter holds the rudder. Jesus is sitting in front of the disciples so that they have their eyes on him.

The boat with Jesus goes in the opposite direction of the boat with the panicking disciples. Does the artist suggest that they had chosen the wrong direction without Jesus? Or was it panic that caused them to go the wrong way?

I look at the pictured persons and I try to imagine myself in their place...

Looking at the boat top left: did I ever see terrifying ghosts... which perhaps after all turned out to be a blessing? Did I ever take the wrong direction out of anxiety? Looking at the boat on the right: do I have the experience that beloved persons took a dangerous risk and I couldn’t do anything to prevent them? Do I know Peter’s experience: were there moments in my life that the ground under my feet began to give way? Did I find anything to hold on? Somebody or something that turned out to be ‘Jesus’?

Meditation by Fr Dries van den Akker S.J