GOSPEL | JOHN 6:16-21
16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” 21 Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.
But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid”…and immediately the boat reached the land” (vv.20-21)
There’s something rough about Lent, like the sea where a strong wind is blowing. The crests and troughs of the waves become more exaggerated, and we can start to feel a little seasick. The things we’ve given up — chocolate, coffee, alcohol, etc. — all sound better and better, and following Jesus to the cross seems harder and harder.
As the waves become higher and the wind blows louder, urging us away from our following Jesus, he comes to us, not as we would expect, and probably even more surprising, or maybe frightening, than the storm itself. He doesn’t offer any assurances or comfort other than this: “It is I; do not be afraid” (v.20).
Jesus tells us that he is the one we’re following. We are not following a stranger. We are not following a mere house-builder, or miracle-worker, or rabble-rouser, or speech-maker. We must take Jesus in his entirety, as he shows himself to us. We cannot follow the parts of Jesus we like about him: the revolutionary, the socialist, the moralizer. This can be terrifying, more terrifying than a strong wind or sudden storm. This is terrifying precisely because it is a call to a real, full relationship with a real, full person! This is also, though, a great comfort. We are not called to know more about Jesus than what he has already willingly shown us. The Gospel accounts are true, Spirit-attested testimonies: to Jesus’s full humanity and full divinity; to his complex canon of teachings on faithful obedience and the kingdom of God; and ultimately to his High Priestly, sacrificial death on the cross on our behalf.
And Jesus tells us to not be afraid. My father-in-law reminded me after one of last week’s posts of a beautiful quote of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s:
“Being a Christian is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God’s will.”
Jesus tells us, in spite of Lent’s sometimes austere call to radical follower-ship, “Do not be afraid.” Once we look to Jesus, and see him as he asks us to see him, and then believe, that’s when we reach solid ground.