Today’s Gospel recounts one of the most famous of miracles: Jesus walking on water. This miracle is also spoken of in the Gospels of John (6:16-21) and Mark (6:45-52). Those Gospels, however, omit any mention of Peter’s efforts to meet Jesus on the water. Nevertheless, this is one of Jesus’s many signs that is told in multiple Gospels and thus one most vividly recalled by the disciples.
There is much one could say about this sign and the first reading, but two important – albeit distressing – themes that emerge are solitude and suffering. As one reads the Gospels, it’s hard not be struck by how much Jesus was alone. Before walking across the sea to the disciples, we are told that Jesus was on the mountain by himself to pray for an extended time. Then as he draws near to them, they mistake him for a ghost. He was in a very real sense removed from them a good deal of the time.
Earlier in Jeremiah we are told of tremendous tragedy before rebuilding by the Lord. It is easy to think that God has forgotten and abandoned us during the low points in our lives. In fact, I doubt that any person of even the strongest faith has been able to resist such thoughts in dark hours. Even Jesus himself, as told to us by Mark, wonders why God has abandoned him.
So why does God allow for abandonment, solitude, suffering and death? Persons of no faith often point to this as "proof" that God does not exist. Yet what would the world be like without these things? As beings with free will we can respond virtuously or not. We can use the dark times in our lives to strengthen our resolve to move forward and do God’s work or we can, like Pilate, try to wash our hands of all that is wrong with the world. Without the opportunity to make those choices, to respond virtuously or not, we would not be human.
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