“ When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.” (John 6:16-21 (ESV)
“It is I; do not be afraid.” The Greek doesn’t quite read that way. Jesus uses the enigmatic phrais ego eimi, here, “I Am”. He gets to the boat and says, “I am, don’t be afraid.” Jesus is making a statement and a half here.
We aren’t sure why the disciples left without Jesus. Maybe they figured he would make his own way back to Capernaum, that he wanted some more time alone. Perhaps, they thought they might find him on the beach if they set out in the boat to explore the coast line a bit as they were heading to Capernaum. In any case, Jesus had split. He withdrew when the people wanted to make him king. Now he is walking on water, and claims to be God, claims to be the one who revealed himself to Moses in the desert. The people didn’t get it. He fed them and all they could think was here was a prophet, here was someone to restore Israel to former glory. They didn’t want to hear what he had to say, they wanted to make him king by force if necessary. They weren’t willing to listen. They had their own plans and wanted to use him to meet their own desires.
So it goes with our relationship with God. All too often it goes this way. We will use God for our own purposes. When things get a bit rough we start going to church, we make deals with God. We really don’t care if God agrees to the deal or not. We think we can force his hand. Often times, we even get what we desired. Our job is restored, things calm down at home. The season of trouble passes. And then we forget about God. Our “faith” is nothing more than the petulance of a five year old. It’s rather pathetic. In reality we have not acknowledged he is God. We have treated him worse than we would ever consider treating a friend who got us a job, or looked after us in time of need. If we were to treat another human like that we would be ostracized. But we don’t think twice about it when it comes to God. We will use him for our own ends, and if he does or doesn’t comply we discard him when all is said and done. At that point it isn’t Jesus who withdraws from us, but we who withdraw from Jesus. He is patient and waits with grace, and we go on our merry way.
Jesus says something in the midst of it all. He returns to his faithful and says, “I am!” Do not be afraid. “I am,” he says. And because he is, we have nothing to fear. He walks on water, he navigates space and time, even as he sustains it. He gets in the boat with us and travels with us through the stormy sea. He won’t be used. He is not to be trifled with. Yet, He is. He is the very source of existence. And he is in the boat with us guiding us home. Do not be afraid, for even if your will is not met, his is done. His will is always done, and he guides all things for good for those who love him.