Ninth Sunday of Matthew - 14:22-34
By St. John Chrysostom
(From Homily 50 on Matthew)
"And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up into the mountain apart to pray: and when the evening had come, He was there alone. But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary." Matthew 14:23-24
For what purpose does He go up into the mountain? To teach us, that loneliness and retirement is good, when we are to pray to God. With this view, you see, He is continually withdrawing into the wilderness, and there often spends the whole night in prayer, teaching us earnestly to seek such quietness in our prayers, as the time and place may confer. For the wilderness is the mother of quiet; it is a calm and a harbor, delivering us from all turmoils.
He Himself then went up there with this object, but the disciples are tossed with the waves again, and undergo a storm, equal even to the former. But whereas before they had Him in the ship when this befell them, now they were alone by themselves. Thus gently and by degrees He excites and urges them on for the better, even to the bearing all nobly. Accordingly we see, that when they were first near that danger, He was present, though asleep, so as readily to give them relief; but now leading them to a greater degree of endurance, He does not even this, but departs, and in mid sea permits the storm to arise, so that they might not so much as look for a hope of preservation from any quarter; and He lets them be tempest-tost all the night, thoroughly to awaken, as I suppose, their hardened heart.
For such is the nature of the fear, which the time concurs with the rough weather in producing. And together with the compunction, He cast them also into a greater longing for Himself, and a continual remembrance of Him.
Accordingly, neither did He present Himself to them at once. For, "in the fourth watch," so it is said, "of the night, He went unto them, walking upon the sea;" Matthew 14:25 instructing them not hastily to seek for deliverance; from their pressing dangers, but to bear all occurrences manfully. At all events, when they looked to be delivered, then was their fear again heightened. For,
"When the disciples," it is said, "saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit: and they cried out for fear."
Yea, and He constantly does so; when He is on the point of removing our terrors, He brings upon us other worse things, and more alarming: which we see took place then also. For together with the storm, the sight too troubled them, no less than the storm. Therefore neither did He remove the darkness, nor straightway make Himself manifest, training them, as I said, by the continuance of these fears, and instructing them to be ready to endure. This He did in the case of Job also; for when He was on the point of removing the terror and the temptation, then He suffered the end to grow more grievous; I mean not for his children's death, or the words of his wife, but because of the reproaches, both of his servants and of his friends. And when He was about to rescue Jacob from his affliction in the strange land, He allowed his trouble to be awakened and aggravated: in that his father-in-law first overtook him and threatened death, and then his brother coming immediately after, suspended over him the extremest danger.
For since one cannot be tempted both for a long time and severely; when the righteous are on the point of coming to an end of their conflicts, He, willing them to gain the more, enhances their struggles. Which He did in the case of Abraham too, appointing for his last conflict that about his child. For thus even things intolerable will be tolerable, when they are so brought upon us, as to have their removal near, at the very doors.
So did Christ at that time also, and did not discover Himself before they cried out. For the more intense their alarm, the more did they welcome His coming. Afterward when they had exclaimed, it is said,
"Straightway Jesus spoke unto them, saying, Be of good cheer, it is I; be not afraid." Matthew 14:27
This word removed their fear, and caused them to take confidence. For as they knew Him not by sight, because of His marvellous kind of motion, and because of the time, He makes Himself manifest by His voice.
2. What then says Peter, everywhere ardent, and ever starting forward before the rest?
"Lord, if it be Thou," says he, "bid me come unto You on the water." Matthew 14:28
He said not, "Pray and entreat," but, "bid." Do you see how great his ardor, how great his faith? Yet surely he is hereby often in danger, by seeking things beyond his measure. For so here too he required an exceedingly great thing, for love only, not for display. For neither did he say, "Bid me walk on the water," but what? "Bid me come unto You." For none so loved Jesus.
This he did also after the resurrection; he endured not to come with the others, but leapt forward. John 21:7 And not love only, but faith also does he display. For he not only believed that He was able Himself to walk on the sea, but that He could lead upon it others also; and he longs to be quickly near Him.
"And he said, Come. And when Peter had come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth His hand and caught him, and says unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore did you doubt?" Matthew 14:29-31
This is more wonderful than the former. Therefore this is done after that. For when He had shown that He rules the sea, then He carries on the sign to what is yet more marvellous. Then He rebuked the winds only; but now He both walks Himself, and permits another to do so; which thing if He had required to be done at the beginning, Peter would not have so well received it, because he had not yet acquired so great faith.
Wherefore then did Christ permit him? Why, if He had said, "you can not," Peter being ardent would have contradicted Him again. Wherefore by the facts He convinces him, that for the future he may be sobered.
But not even so does he endure. Therefore having come down, he becomes dizzy; for he was afraid. And this the surf caused, but his fear was wrought by the wind.
But John says, that "they willingly received Him into the ship; and immediately the ship was at the land whither they went," relating this same circumstance. So that when they were on the point of arriving at the land, He entered the ship.
Peter then having come down from the ship went unto Him, not rejoicing so much in walking on the water, as in coming unto Him. And when he had prevailed over the greater, he was on the point of suffering evil from the less, from the violence of the wind, I mean, not of the sea. For such a thing is human nature; not seldom effecting great things, it exposes itself in the less; as Elias felt toward Jezebel, as Moses toward the Egyptian, as David toward Bathsheba. Even so then this man also; while their fear was yet at the height, he took courage to walk upon the water, but against the assault of the wind he was no longer able to stand; and this, being near Christ. So absolutely nothing does it avail to be near Christ, not being near Him by faith.
And this also showed the difference between the Master and the disciple, and allayed the feelings of the others. For if in the case of the two brethren they had indignation, much more here; for they had not yet the Spirit vouchsafed unto them.
But afterwards they were not like this. On every occasion, for example, they give up the first honors to Peter, and put him forward in their addresses to the people, although of a rougher vein than any of them.
And wherefore did He not command the winds to cease, but Himself stretched forth His hand and took hold of him? Because in him faith was required. For when our part is wanting, then God's part also is at a stand.
Signifying therefore that not the assault of the wind, but his want of faith had wrought his overthrow, He says, "Wherefore did you doubt, O thou of little faith?" So that if his faith had not been weak, he would have stood easily against the wind also. And for this reason, you see, even when He had caught hold of Him, He suffers the wind to blow, showing that no hurt comes thereby, when faith is steadfast.
And as when a nestling has come out of the nest before the time, and is on the point of falling, its mother bears it on her wings, and brings it back to the nest; even so did Christ.
"And when they had come into the ship, then the wind ceased." Matthew 14:32
Whereas before this they had said, "What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him!" Matthew 8:27 now it is not so. For "they that were in the ship," it is said, "came and worshipped Him, saying, Of a truth You are Son of God." Matthew 14:33 Do you see, how by degrees he was leading them all higher and higher? For both by His walking on the sea, and by His commanding another to do so, and preserving him in jeopardy; their faith was henceforth great. For then indeed He rebuked the sea, but now He rebukes it not, in another way signifying His power more abundantly. Wherefore also they said, "Of a truth You are Son of God."
What then? Did He rebuke them on their so speaking? Nay, quite the contrary, He rather confirmed what they said, with greater authority healing such as approached Him, and not as before.