Why Did You Doubt?
Ordinary 19 Year A
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
St. Matthew 14: 22 — 33
Just prior to our current reading, the text describes the feeding of 5000 men plus any women and children present. We are not told why, by Matthew, but as soon as the feeding of the crowd was accomplished, our Lord and His disciples left the scene. In our meditation we should not speculate from other Gospel references why our Lord was so emphatic,
Some Reflections on our Text
Then he made the disciples get into the boat and precede
him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.
Immediately after the feeding of the 5000, Jesus ordered (constrained) His disciples to get into the boat and go on ahead of Him to the other side of the bay, while He dismissed the crowd. The disciples were not exactly enthusiastic about this, but nevertheless they complied with the Lord’s very firm and determined direction.
After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself
to pray. When it was evening he was there alone.
In verse 13 of the chapter, when our Lord heard of the senseless and brutal execution of His cousin John the Baptist, He withdrew immediately to “a desert place apart”: not a desert as we think of, but a wilderness place of natural solitude and peacefulness where He could be at one with nature and with God.
All that was shattered by the advance party of admirers who were desperate for His support and blessings, which they valued so much. Our Lord did not hesitate for a moment to put aside His own need so that He could serve theirs. As we know, He gave them much more in food provisions than they could ever have hoped for.
With the opportunity now presenting itself again, after He had dismissed the crowd, Jesus went up into the hills by Himself to pray. Always at this point, the great commentaries on the Gospels pause for a moment to acknowledge the example of our Lord retreating for prayer.
We should note that Jesus prays, not because He needs to, but because He is the High Priest of the New Testament — as we are taught by St. Cyril of Alexandria. This is clearly reflected in his choice of:—
secondly: quiet and peace of mind;
thirdly: elevation of soul — up on the mountain.
Our Messiah, Yeshua, prays in like manner before all the most important steps in the founding of the Church: e.g,
• The selection of the Apostles (Luke 6);
• The declaration of the primacy, the seniority of Peter (Luke 9);
• The Eucharistic discourse (John 6)
In passing, let’s recall that for 2000 years the traditions of retreating to special places for more intense prayer, and the practice of praying not only during the day, but also rising during the silence of the night, have been maintained by a significant number of Christians. The challenge to us in the rapid secularisation of our culture is to restore this ancient and profoundly spiritual heritage before it collapses altogether and vanishes in a sea of moral decline. We encourage the practice of setting aside a place in our home and / or the garden where we might follow our Lord’s example, (See An Oratory at Home.)
We paused momentarily to focus on the way our Lord teaches his spiritual path, sometimes by oral instruction, sometimes by example. Now we pick up the events of this exciting account. Verse 23 merges into verse 24 as follows:
Verse 23b and 24
When it was evening he was there alone.
Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being
tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it.
Remember, in verse 15, “when it was evening”, the disciples approached Jesus out of concern for the crowd who had been so attentive they forgot to make provision for evening meals. That “evening” was in Jewish culture, the “first evening”, the turn of the sun, the late afternoon, the onset of evening. In this text, the “second evening” arrives. This is the period of twilight merging into night.
Again, to acknowledge our Christian culture, it is appropriate to recall that Christians from the very first days upheld the Biblical division of time based on the first five verses of Genesis. The Church has always maintained the practice of beginning each new day from the “first evening”, the onset of evening. Evening prayer (sometimes called Vespers) traditionally takes place between the onset of evening and sunset. We note that this was often, as on this occasion, the time Jesus retreated for solitude and prayer. Many Christians attest to the spiritual value of prayer at this time.
Verses 25 and 26
During the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them,
walking on the sea.
When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were
terrified. “It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear.
During the fourth watch of the night, between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m., Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. The disciples were hardened labourers who, despite the unrelenting wind, and though very tired, were quite confident about riding out the storm. Nevertheless, at the sight of our Lord, they actually screamed out in terror, thinking he was a ghost! Later they would learn that this is the New Moses (at the Red Sea) and the New Elisha who floated an axe head (2 Kings 6: 6).
Again, aside, we note Jesus ended his night vigil during the last phase of darkness shortly before light began to appear. This has always been the traditional time for those Christians, who could, to rise and recite the morning praises of God, welcoming the true Light of the World. This is another time we would recommend the followers of Jesus the Messiah, to unite with the whole Body of Christ in prayer. And if not then, at least, when we do rise from sleep.
At once (Jesus) spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I;
do not be afraid.”
Jesus never failed to say these words if there was the slightest need among the twelve.
For St. Peter, our Lord’s words, “It is I,” are a resounding echo of God’s words to Moses (Exodus 3: 13 — 15) — similarly, feeling totally inadequate to the situation he is in. Peter hears our Lord correctly, “I am here to save you (Exodus 3: 14).
Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me
to come to you on the water.”
Peter, in a loving response to the warmth of the words of Jesus, replied:
“Lord” (in the Christian sense of the title, not just the meaning “Sir”),
“if it is in fact you,” (meaning, since it is you), “command me to come
to you on the water.” In other words: “Just tell me to come”.
Despite what some have written about St. Peter, based on an over-emphasis on textual linguistics, he had learnt that when the Lord commands, His command also empowers!
He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to
walk on the water toward Jesus.
Let there be no doubt about it. Peter had full faith in the Lord’s command and gift to carry it out. As a result, Peter got down out of the boat, and walked on the water, towards Jesus.
The Lord commanded it, and Peter did it. But …..!
But when he saw how (strong) the wind was he became frightened;
and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
After walking on the lake for some distance we are told that Peter, “saw the wind.” The Greek construction of the sentence means Peter realised how strong the wind was, how furiously it was blowing. When he saw the wind, just momentarily he turned his attention to the power of the wind and waves and wondered how he could cope with that. Thus he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me.”
We notice that Peter did not suddenly sink when he became preoccupied with the fury of the sea. Rather he began to sink, and typically to his credit, called on the Lord for help.
Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him,
and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Our Lord implies: “You were doing so well. Your mistake was to let your mind wonder how you could keep this up. You forgot that, of yourself, you couldn’t manage it for a moment. You listened to the fury and rage all around you, and you let that take your focus off the fact that you were carrying out my command to you. Whenever you make that mistake, you will sink into the furious mess all around you!”
After they got into the boat, the wind died down.
Nothing more is said about the incident. They both climbed into the boat, and the wind died down. How very Hebraic! One moment everybody is all uptight about the storm and the sudden appearance of “a ghost”. And then, the next moment suddenly, everything returns to normal, and we wonder what all the fuss was about!
How noticeable it is that our Lord Jesus doesn’t go on and on about weaknesses and failings. Everything is an instruction about how to think and act as He does; and He lets His followers slowly come to terms with themselves and their obvious limitations. It is “no big deal”.
Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying,
“Truly, you are the Son of God.”
They worshipped Him by kneeling and then bowing forehead to the floor, in front of Him and declared:
“Truly, you are the Son of God.”
They then carried on across the lake and Jesus, at dawn, began another day of healing and blessing people. Without a word of comment, He is seen to just carry on with what the early morning presented to Him. Now what do we think of that?
What are we to make of such a strange incident? Our early Christian writers saw this account as the story of each soul, as well as of the Church.
It is natural for us to discover that, deep down, we are wondering about many things:
• Why did our Lord take so long to come and help them if that had been His plan?
• Why did they think He was a ghost when He did finally come?
• What really caused Peter to start sinking?
• What did Jesus mean by, “Why did you doubt?” when Peter had more
courage than the rest put together?
The ancients are silent on some of these but were very vocal on others. An important part of being a Christian is to accept the fact that we are not to expect to understand every mystery which confronts us.
This incident begins and ends with worship and this is significant. That Peter walked on water at our Lord’s command seems incredible but greater things are about to happen. That is not the key element. He took his eyes off Jesus and became preoccupied with the size of the waves and intensity of the wind. Now that is significant, for he begins at that point to start sinking. Demonstrating a faith hardly matched by any other human being, he calls out with complete confidence, “Lord, save me.” Jesus obliges but says something to him, which Peter did not understand at the time: “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
In time St. Peter was able to look back and be grateful for the experience. Jesus was in fact using the opportunity to challenge him to let his faith soar up to greater heights than any difficulty which would confront him in the future. Nothing should ever dwarf his trust in Jesus, no matter how overwhelming it might appear. There would never be any basis for letting doubt take over: not one single reason!
However, and this is the real point, no matter how much he might fail in the future (and he surely did), having recognised his failure and weakness, it would always be right to call out, “Lord, save me.” It is all right to be human, Jesus teaches, but His disciples are to call on Him so that their weaknesses do not hinder them in their ministry. The worst thing they could possibly do would be to become despondent at their own limitations, and fail to turn to Him in their time of need.
The teaching of all the early Christian writers, as well as those we have quoted above, is that a constant attitude of prayerfulness and regular practice of retreating for prayer, morning and evening are the best assurance we have that we will, in times of special need, turn to the Lord for support, rather than to human devices.
We are in just the same position as was St. Peter, and must understand that our Lord chooses us to carry out His mission not because of our virtues and strengths, but because we want to obey Him and proclaim the glory of the Lord.
We should not be surprised if we, like St. Peter, sometimes take our sight off the Lord, and look to our own abilities to keep going. But let us at least, when we fall, or begin to sink into the raging chaos around us, like St. Peter, have the faith to call out, “Lord, save me”.
- – – – – – – – – -
St. Peter: Courageous Apostle of Jesus Christ,
Pray for us.
- – – – – – – – – -
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Why Did You Doubt?
Ordinary 19 Year A St. Matthew 14: 22 to 33
1. Our Lord let it be known that He sought solitude and silence, frequently, in
2. In this account, St. Peter walked on water, just as Jesus did. Sadly, most
And, then, when (not “if”) we slip up, let us have the humility to follow
3. “Those who were in the boat did Him homage.” If we bowed our heads to
Let us pray for one another that we will not become despondent at our limitations and failures, but will follow the Apostle Peter‘s example and have no hesitation calling on Jesus: “Lord, save me.”
Matthew 14: 22 — 33
Ordinary 19 Year A
22 7 Then he made the disciples get into the boat and
23 After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself
24 Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was
25 During the fourth watch of the night, 8 he came toward
26 When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they
27 At once (Jesus) spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I;
28 Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command
29 He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to
30 But when he saw how (strong) the wind was he became
31 Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught
32 After they got into the boat, the wind died down.
33 11 Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying,
7 [22-33] The disciples, laboring against the turbulent sea, are saved by Jesus. For his power over the waters, see the note on ⇒ Matthew 8:26. Here that power is expressed also by his walking on the sea (⇒ Matthew 14:25; cf ⇒ Psalm 77:20; ⇒ Job 9:8). Matthew has inserted into the Marcan story (⇒ Mark 6:45-52) material that belongs to his special traditions on Peter (⇒ Matthew 14:28-31).
8  The fourth watch of the night: between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. The Romans divided the twelve hours between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. into four equal parts called “watches.”
9  It is I: see the note on ⇒ Mark 6:50.
11  This confession is in striking contrast to the Marcan parallel (Matthew 6:51) where the disciples are “completely astounded.”
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised