We are all probably very familiar with the Gospel story of Jesus calming the storm and of Jesus walking on water. All four of the Gospels speak of Jesus calming the storm at sea. Three of the Gospels include a story about Jesus walking on the water of the Sea of Galilee. In today’s reading from St. John’s Gospel, the two stories seem to be joined or conflated into one story. The story separates the “feeding of the five thousand” from the Discourse on the Bread of Life in chapter six of St. John’s Gospel.
One detail in John’s narration sets it apart from all the other renditions of this event. At the very end of the story, John writes: “They wanted to take him into the boat, but the boat immediately arrived at the shore to which they were heading.” (John 6:21) In other words, one might say that with Jesus in your boat, you have already reached your destination.
In each instance, the Gospels record that Jesus is seen walking on the water as the apostles row their boat to Capernaum. They have just witnessed Jesus feeding the five thousand who had gathered to hear him preach. This leads me to believe that there is some connection between the two events.
One does not have to be a Scripture scholar to recognize that the feeding of the five thousand in the wilderness is a prefigurement of the Eucharist. Just as he does at the Last Supper in the Upper Room, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and distributed it to those who had gathered to hear him speak. The only difference between the narration of this story and the story of the Last Supper is that in this instance, the disciples join Jesus in distributing the food to the men, women and children who were seated on the ground. In each of the Gospels, there are always left overs.
The word “communion” literally means “with unity.” Through the Eucharist we are joined with Jesus and with our fellow communicants.
For those of us who receive communion frequently, we may have become so familiar with the sacrament that we don’t fully appreciate that it brings us into an intimate union with Jesus. We all know that “familiarity” oftentimes leads to a lack of appreciation. “You only appreciate something when it is no longer available.
So I wonder whether the story of the disciples rowing across the stormy Sea of Galilee isn’t the evangelist’s way of reinforcing the truth of our union with Jesus. No matter what the nature of the “storm,” we need not worry if Jesus is with us. John takes the metaphor one step further. If Jesus is with us, we have reached our destination. Another way of saying it is that Jesus IS our destination. Jesus is the goal for which we are striving.
Uniting ourselves with Jesus, however, also reminds us that we must also be united in his suffering. This is a truth which undergirds the spirituality of CUSA. Our bond with the crucified Savior is our willingness to offer the pain and frustration of dealing with chronic illness and disability for the good of the Church.
I have a special fondness for this Gospel story as it was on this day fifteen years ago that I celebrated my Silver Jubilee of Ordination. One of the guests at the liturgy was so taken with the image of Jesus in our boat that he gave me a small replica of an ark with a picture of Jesus and me in it. It is a constant reminder to me that Jesus is my goal, my destination, my ultimate achievement.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M.