Sea of Terror and Redemption

The Sea of Galilee is an imposing body of water. Coupled with the reality of what happened on its shores, and on the surface of its depths, it is a place that echoes stories of faith and lives transformed. This transformation has come by way of many profound encounters designed by our great God to draw the hearts of his disciples to a faith that would set the world ablaze.

The impact of coming to the shore of the Sea of Galilee, called Lake Kinneret by the locals, was something I could not have prepared myself for. The biblical designation “Sea of Galilee” is much more fitting to its description than the “lake” designation. Coming from the Western U.S., most of our lakes are small and of a size where one can recognize friends and family from shore to shore. The Sea of Galilee has more in common with the Great Lakes than the small lakes I fished as a child.

It helped me to stand on the shores of this vast body of water to understand how a storm on a “lake” like this could be terrifying to those trapped out in the water. Of course, anyone who has been on a small boat in any storm knows that being the highest object in the middle of a vast flat surface is very unnerving when lighting begins to flash all around; and then, if the wind is strong enough to wrestle the vessel out your control, and the waves rise to threaten your buoyancy, well, extreme fear or “terror” is a rational response.

It makes a great deal of sense to hear in chapter 14 of St. Matthew’s gospel that the disciples were haggard. They had been “beaten by the waves” of the night for some time. Suddenly, a man appears walking on the water toward them!

Can you imagine the fear you would feel not knowing exactly who or what this thing was as it approached you? To see him in the dark, there is no doubt that there had to have been some kind of glow about him or a reflection from the moonlight.

As he came closer, was he moving with the swells and thus always on the top of the water as it lifted it high above them? Was he walking on a seemingly level plane toward the boat, with the water parting and rising around him, as with Moses? Whatever the scene, it must have been bone chilling.

The man is now close enough to be recognized and the fear breaks into an innerving revelation of God. Peter’s elation compels him to engage the One who he knew controlled the wind and the waves. As he steps out, in spite of his first success to traverse the water, the raging darkness draws his eyes and heart away from Christ and he begins to sink into the violent deep. He cries out in terror, “Lord, save me!”

Jesus stretches out his hand and pulls Peter up. With a gentle rebuke to help Peter remember the necessity of faith for heroic action, Jesus places him in the boat and steps in himself. The howling wind immediately ceases and the dark growl of the deep is silenced to tranquility.

Their right response was to worship him.

Our right response is the same but sometimes we need to taste, touch, and smell what we read about in order to look past the raging storm of this life.

The Lord, in the gift of contemplation, can meet these human needs with his self-revelation as he promised through the pen of St. John. Even so, the Church in her wisdom, understanding the power of pilgrimage, calls us to the purposeful, prayerful tasting, touching, and smelling of the tangible reality of the places where God has walked – even on the water ….

God bless you as you seek to know and love him. I pray that we will be together next year in Jerusalem.


Art for this post on the sea of terror and redemption: Detail of Sea of Galilee (Lake of Tiberias), photographer unknown, between 1890-1900, PD-US published in the U.S. prior to 1 January 1923, Wikimedia Commons.

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