So far, I’ve been looking for grace in the Old Testament, specifically in Genesis. I thought I’d jump into the Gospels for a change of pace.
One story where grace appears in an unexpected way is found in Matthew 14:22-33. In this story, we find the disciples in a boat without Jesus and caught up in a mighty storm. The CEB describes the scene: “Meanwhile, the boat, fighting a strong headwind was being battered by the waves and was already far away from land.” Linger in that scene for a long moment. Let yourselves feel the water crashing over the bow, feel the boat rocking so hard beneath you that you struggle to remain upright, and feel the terror in your soul as you come face-to-face with the fact that you might not survive this tempest. In the battle between nature and humanity, nature often wins. Will that be the case in this situation?
Then, as you shield your eyes from the pounding rain and look out toward the raging sea, you see something odd – a figure coming toward you on the water. It’s hard to tell just what it is, but it has the shape of a human being. Is it some strange sea monster? Is it a ghost? Is it Death come to steal you from this world and send you sinking into the depths below?
Grace first appears in this story in the words Jesus speaks out of the storm: “Be encouraged! It’s me. Don’t be afraid.” Here you are caught up in the terror of the storm, a terror that has just been multiplied by the sight of this figure walking toward you, and what you hear is the sound of your Master’s voice telling you not to be afraid. We could stop right there and leave with a sense of peace and gratitude. We are not alone in the storm! Jesus is with us and tells us that with him we have nothing to fear, not even a deadly storm.
The thing about grace, however, is that it isn’t just there to save us or comfort us. Grace is often at its best when it challenges us. And that’s where we really find grace at work in this story. With a storm raging all around, Jesus invites Peter to step out of the boat. Why didn’t Jesus calm the storm first? Isn’t walking on calm water enough of a miracle? Did it have to be a raging sea upon which Peter had to take that step?
I think it did! Grace sometimes calls us into the storm. But why? When Christ could still the waves and the winds with a single word, why does he allow the storm to continue and why does he call us to come into the storm? Perhaps it is because it is within the storm that the strength of our faith is honed and perfected. Perhaps it is only in the storm that we discover who we are and of what we are capable. Perhaps it is only in the storm that we learn how much we need Jesus and how much we can accomplish with Jesus.
I often long for a life full of calm seas and sunny days. I want to have that bluebird of happiness always perched on my shoulder (while keeping its little bluebird poop to itself, thank you!). But that’s not life. At least it’s not life in this world. In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells his disciples, “In the world you have distress. But be encouraged! I have conquered the world.”
There are those words again: “Be encouraged.” It takes courage to step out into the storm. It takes courage to live in this world so filled with distress. Jesus en-courages us and tells us to step out into the storm where he is waiting. Peter let his eyes drift from Jesus’ face to the waves beneath him, and in so doing he began to sink. What might happen if we keep our eyes on Jesus when we step into the storm? What depth of grace and empowerment might we experience?
Even though Peter failed to find out, grace continued to work. When he called out for Jesus to save him, Jesus reached out his hand and grabbed a hold of Peter. Notice that the storm still raged on. Jesus saved Peter within the storm when the storm became too much for him to handle on his own. That assures us that when we also fail to trust within the storm, Jesus will reach out to save us as well.
What storm are you caught up in right now? Have you been praying for Jesus to calm the storm? What might happen if you changed your prayer? What might happen if you prayed and asked Jesus to call you into the storm? And what might happen if you stepped out of your boat right into that storm and kept your eyes on Jesus the whole time? How might he use you to calm the storm for others? How might he en-courage you, empower you, and strengthen your faith? There’s only one way to find out.
Rev. Joyce Day
If you would like to view past editions of Grace for the Journey, follow this link: https://sounddistrictnc.org/category/grace-for-the-journey/