They were on a desperate journey, one they didn’t want to make. It was a great task, to take the One Ring to safety before the Dark Lord could get it, and they almost waited too long. Frodo and Sam and their companions set out from their home without the great magician Gandalf as their guide, as almost immediately after leaving their home, they are running from one danger to another. The arrive at an inn, and see a stranger sitting in a corner who is very interested in what they’re doing. One fellow talks a bit more than he should, and soon the wrong people find out who Frodo and Sam are and why they’re there. Frodo accidentally puts on the Ring and puts himself into great danger, at which time he discovers the mysterious stranger is actually someone sent to help him. They continue on after spending the night in his protection, a night when there was an ambush waiting in their rooms. The stranger, Strider the Ranger, looked foul and felt fair; he was a cause of fear at first, but then became the one who had the power to save them.
In today’s Gospel reading, we have an unusual scene. Jesus and his disciples have just fed the multitude, and Jesus sends the disciples out ahead of him across the Sea of Galilee. I can tell you that the Sea of Galilee is a place of unpredictable storms, I’ve experienced one myself, and during the fourth watch, between 3 and 6 in the morning, when the night is darkest, they are in a storm on the lake out of sight of land. They see someone walking toward them across the water, and they conclude immediately that this is a ghost, a sign of imminent destruction. It turns out to be Jesus, and Peter gets brave enough to walk out to meet him. As long as he is focused on Jesus, all is well, but when he focuses on what he’s doing, he starts to sink. Jesus pulls him out, enters the boat and brings peace to the storm.
As we look at the images, it’s helpful to know that in ancient times the Sea is a sign of chaos, chaos barely under control by God, but beyond human control. The disciples are set out to navigate the chaos on their own, and they have trouble. To see Jesus walking on the water is a sign of his ability to master the chaos, to keep above the confusion, to keep from being swallowed by everything going on around him. Where Jesus is, there is peace, and when Jesus enters the boat, the storm ceases and it is peaceful again.
As we go though life, we can feel as though we’re overwhelmed by chaos. Probably all we have to do to find chaos is go to the store to get stocked up for school, and if it’s not there now, it will be shortly. We being many journeys around this time of year, (we might as well as call this new year), and though it is a time of excitement of new beginnings, it’s also a time where getting through the entire school year, or new things going on in the parish, or football season, or a dozen other things can seem overwhelming. We can feel as though we’re on at the beginning of a long journey trying to keep something precious from falling into the wrong hands, a journey which doesn’t seem to have an end.
Jesus is the one who can help us walk on the water. Jesus is the one who can help us keep what is really important in our grasp. Jesus can calm the storm if we let him into our boat. When we lose track of Jesus, we have as much luck as Peter did walking on the water when he lost track of Jesus. Jesus is the one that can help us find meaning in life, when there seems to be no meaning or reason.
Today, Jesus reaches out to us through the eucharist. He reaches out through every sacrament to pull us up, to bring us to safety, to calm the storm. Jesus is the one who will stand guard over us when evil seems to be ready to destroy us. Jesus is the one who helps us walk on water, if we keep our eyes on Him.