Christ walking on the water and about temptations (Matthew 14:22-34)
As Christianity has become more watered down over the ages due to the lack of persecution that has lulled Christians into a sort of sleep, we have begun to view things as the world does and not as Christ has shown us. One of the clearest examples is our view of trials or temptations in the form of suffering. Many Christians today wonder why, when they have been faithful to God and have striven to obey God’s commandments, it is that they seem to suffer more than those that have denied God and make no effort to obey His commandments. While it is natural to expect God’s favor after striving to follow His commandments, we seem to have lost the foundational view of this current life in this fallen world. We have become confused and have fallen for the delusion that the enemy constantly presents to us to lose sight of the realities that Christ has shown us, namely exchanging eternal life in Heaven for temporal pleasure on this fallen world. Our Lord did not teach a health and wealth Gospel. The health and wealth that Christians receive is invisible to the fleshly eye and only seen by those who also love God and holy things. To the fleshly eye, we look pitiable and weak, but to the eye that sees clearly, Christians are seen to be strong and rich, having an inheritance in the Heavens. Just as an athlete is only able to obtain the highest achievements through rigorous training, so likewise is a Christian able to reach perfection only through the training of temptations. For those whose faith has already reached a level of perfection, temptations help to demonstrate their perfection. And for those that are still imperfect, temptations provide a method for their becoming perfect. Today’s Gospel reading is an example of the latter. We read about the Apostles being tempted by the wind and sea while aboard a ship. Wanting to train His Apostles in patience and being able to bear hardship, our Lord allowed them to be tempted on the dangerous sea for a long time and even allowed them to think He was a ghost before giving the calming words of salvation, His declaration of His divinity, calling Himself, “I am”, the title of God, the creator and controller of all things, including the boisterous sea. St. John Chrysostom explains why it was that Jesus allowed them to be tempted so hardly saying, “He lets them be tempest-tossed all the night, thoroughly to awaken, as I suppose, their hardened heart. And together with the compunction, He cast them also into a greater longing for Himself, and a continual remembrance of Him. Accordingly, neither did He present Himself to them at once. For, “in the fourth watch,” so it is said, “of the night, He went unto them, walking upon the sea;” instructing them not hastily to seek for deliverance from their pressing dangers, but to bear all occurrences manfully.” Our Lord taught his Apostles in stages. Earlier He had calmed the seas while aboard a ship with them. Now that they had learned more and developed a stronger faith, He does not stop the storm, but demonstrates His power over the temptation by walking on it and showing that He can also give the ability to walk on the water to those with faith. This account can be symbolically interpreted to represent our situation in that just as Jesus had just healed, taught, and fed the crowds in a miraculous way and went up the mountain and sent his disciples to cross over the stormy sea, our Lord has brought healing, wisdom, and spiritual sustenance through His Incarnation and has ascended into the Heavens as our Mediator, and has also sent us to cross over this stormy life by which we are tempted to produce and show our faith. Just as the Lord did not calm the sea, but gave Peter the ability to walk on it, in our life here in this fallen world, trials are not taken away from us, but we are given the ability to overcome them by our Lord if we only have faith in Him. Only when Christ returns in His second coming will He fully put an end to the terrible waves stirred up against His Church and trample them under foot. There are also different types of temptations that we can speak of. Concerning these types of temptations that are being taught today, there are those of pleasure or pain, health or sickness, honor or dishonor, riches or poverty. And those considered more favorable to world are actually the more harmful and dangerous. But there are also different types of temptations in another sense. There are temptations that come from outside and those that come from within. These that we have spoken about and that God uses come from outside. The temptations that come from within come from sin and bring spiritual death, departure from God. These temptations do not come from God and we must flee these temptations. That is why we ask God to lead us not into temptation. We have confused these types of temptations and ask God to shield us from the temptations that actually bring us eternal life and perfection and these other deadly temptations we overlook. If we cleanse ourselves from all iniquity by repenting, we will only need more moderate temptations here and will in the future return to the life free from sorrows and trials. May we imitate our Lord who lowered Himself and was tempted in all ways like us except for by sin so that we too can share in His Ascension to the Heavens with those that have patiently waited to be rewarded for their endurance in temptation, to Whom be the glory and honor and worship, together with the Father and Holy Spirit. Amen.