16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, 17got into a boat, and started across the lake to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18The lake became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19When they had rowed about three or four miles,* they saw Jesus walking on the lake and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. 20But he said to them, ‘It is I;* do not be afraid.’ 21Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land towards which they were going.
After feeding the people in the wilderness, and to escape their political aims for him, Jesus went up on the mountain, where he could be alone with God. When evening came, the disciples got into the boat to cross the Sea of Galilee (the Lake of Tiberius) and return to Capernaum. The Sea of Galilee is really more a lake than a sea; you can see across to the other side. Some of the disciples were fishermen and did not think twice about going out across the Galilee, but the Sea is also known for its sudden squalls that come down out of the hills to the north. Such a squall came up that night; the lake was rough, and the disciples were making little headway rowing across – rowing 3 or 4 miles puts them in about the middle of the lake.
Suddenly, they see Jesus coming to them, walking on the lake. Now we will tend here to read into John’s text what we know from the synoptic gospels, so let’s notice the differences – John does not say that Jesus calmed the storm, nor does he describe Peter’s walking on the water. But he does say that the disciples in the boat were terrified when they saw Jesus walking on the water. And Jesus tells them not to be afraid, for it is him. Actually, his words can be better translated “I am”, a phrase we will see again and again in John’s Gospel. The New Interpreter’s Bible note says, “As Jesus walks across the water, he identifies himself to the disciples with the divine name, ‘I AM’ (YAHWEH). This miracle reveals Jesus’ glory because Jesus shares in God’s dominion over the waters of chaos.” And as soon as they recognize Jesus and reach out to pull him into the boat, they find that they have reached their destination.
Because Jesus is the Great I AM, we can put away our fears and we can trust in him. We can stop rowing against the wind, and let him direct our path to his destination. Life’s storms need not deter us, for Jesus comes to us through them.
But why does the author sandwich this miracle into the story of the feeding? He will return to the discussion of the feeding of the people in the wilderness. I think he is doing so because this event provides evidence – walking on the water is further testimony as to who Jesus is – he identifies himself as “I AM” – It provides further grounding for what might seem to John’s community to be outrageous claims, in the passage that follows, when Jesus says, “I AM the Bread of Life.”
Sea of Galilee