January 21, 2017
“As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee…” (Mt 4:18)
Jesus steps out into the world. He goes to be baptized by John. He spends time in the desert being tempted by Satan. When he hears of John’s arrest he withdraws closer to home, but chooses to leave his hometown of Nazareth to set up residence in Capernaum. This involves a change of scene from the obscure agricultural village of his upbringing to the somewhat more cosmopolitan environment of a seaside town, where fishing and trade are principal means of support. From now on we will see Jesus using Capernaum as a base from which to travel throughout Galilee to carry out his mission of proclaiming the nearness of the kingdom of God. He will often be found walking by the sea, or stepping into a boat, crisscrossing the Sea of Galilee from one side to the other repeatedly.
At this moment, Jesus is leaving behind the obscurity of his childhood and young adulthood and is poised to begin his public ministry. He walks alone in this new town, and there is the sea, vast and wide, which had formed no part of his childhood experience. Perhaps he senses as he stands rapt before this great body of water that he has found his means of conveyance, his chariot, his proper medium. Like the Spirit breathed out upon the waters of chaos, he longs to set out amidst the crashing of waves and the cries of sea-birds. He yearns to be physically immersed in the power and passion of wind and water, which rage and foam according to their creator’s intent.
Naturally, then, he is attracted to these people of the sea, these fishermen whose lives and livelihoods are tied up in the struggle to master the elements and make them yield their bounty. These men know something in their bones about the majesty and sovereign freedom of an untamed God. Jesus calls them into another world and another battle in which it is the souls and bodies, hearts and minds of human beings that are at stake. Their skill with the net must be turned to drawing people toward God.
But even as he calls them away from their boats and nets, Jesus enters their world irrevocably. He will sleep in their boats, direct the casting of their nets, and share their meals of baked fish. He will live with them the nitty-gritty of daily life, and then turn around and amaze them. On a stormy night during the fourth watch, he will terrify them by walking toward them on the waves. Then he will call them a second time from their boat and their nets:
“Come, walk with me on the waters of chaos. Set out with reckless confidence born of faith. Be like wisdom playing over the whole earth and dancing over the waters, finding delight in it all before the face of God.”