I am a planner. I love marking future events on a calendar so I have something to look forward to. I love checking off things on my to-do list so I stay organized in both my work life and my personal life. I love making grocery lists, so I know what to get at the store. I write lists in my calendar with time increments set aside so I know almost exactly how my day will go. I make lists of what lists I need to make. My mom reminds me that as a child I once made a color coded packing list for softball camp so I knew exactly what outfit to wear on which day. You need a list made or a chart color coded? I am your girl.
Yes, I am that kind of planner.
So it may be no surprise to you that I don’t love surprises. You know, those moments when plans are thrown off course by an unexpected disruption? My kneejerk reaction to a disruption is disappointment. Everything can be going just according to schedule - exactly according to how I listed it in my planner - and out of nowhere I’m thrown off by one of life’s curveballs. It could be a detour on the route on which I’m driving that delays my arrival time. It could be a piece of news that distracts my mind from the things I was supposed to accomplish that day. I had a plan – and now that plan is out the window. I’ve got to start fresh and reorganize to adapt to the disruption life has thrown my way.
Disruptions frequented Jesus in his ministry. He was often interrupted by the needs of those around him – as we saw last week, Jesus was thrown off course by a tug on his cloak and a request for healing. He was guided in a different direction than what he might have planned in that moment to address the concern of a member in the community. Disruption appears again this week, as Jesus’s plans are interrupted by his own disciples.
Jesus had a plan – possibly color coded in his paper planner or at the very least his google calendar notifications were turned on. The plan was clear. Bullet point one – feed 5000. Bullet point two – send disciples ahead on boat. Bullet point three – escape to mountain for prayer time alone. Bullet point four – join disciples later.
I hope Jesus carried whiteout in his ministry.
As he approached bullet point three – the one where he escapes to the mountain for prayer time alone – a disruption occurred. The disciples had set out in a boat, but they found themselves rowing against an adverse wind. Rowing tirelessly and getting nowhere.
UGHHH. I want to imagine Jesus saying. Slugging his shoulders, rolling his eyes. Not another disruption – I want him to scoff.
None of that description is in the Bible though. Because Jesus is not a bystander, he walks out on the water and intends to pass by the disciples. Not ignoring their plight – not disregarding their need for assistance or encouragement – but Jesus intends to pass by them so they seem him in his full divinity. So they see him for who he truly is – the son of God. The Messiah.
Yet, this plan backfired. A plan disrupted once more because the disciples think Jesus is a ghost. Terrified at the thought of a ghost or a sea spirit capsizing their boat, the disciples cried out in fear.
With compassion and clarity, Jesus reveals his identity to the disciples. Saying “take heart, it is I. do not be afraid.” Take heart, it is I. do not be afraid.
And then Jesus in true Jesus fashion does not reprimand the disciples or insult them in their vulnerability. He does not say “get over it, disciples. You’ve messed up my plans. Toughen up. I must get back to my schedule.” He does not walk back across the water and return to his planned alone time. Jesus joins the disciples in the boat. Jesus steps in and physically reminds them “I am here”. And the sea calms. Jesus reminds us that our god is a god who sees the struggling & says oh, let me help you. Let me join you. See who I am? I am here. Take heart. Do not be afraid.
Our habitual interpretation with this story is to see ourselves in the shoes of the disciples. To relate to a time in our lives when we’ve been rowing against an adverse wind. A time when we’ve been struggling in the midst of a storm at sea – hoping for God to show up and calm the stormy waters. The words Jesus offers the disciples are words of comfort and assurance – take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid. These are good words for us to hear at any moment.
But at this moment, I wonder if we might hear the story differently from the perspective of Jesus. I wonder if we might see the world from a different vantage point – from the eyes of Jesus. We have dreams of what 2021 will bring. We have hopes for how our government leaders will guide us into the future. We have plans / to-do lists for how we will take care of ourselves – and we should. But people are rowing against adverse winds all around us. Are we disrupted by their struggle? When we see members of our community who are home insecure, will we disrupt our plans to find them shelter? When we see black and brown neighbors facing discrimination, will we disrupt our plans to stand up for justice? When we hear about the needs of refugees, will we disrupt our plans to attend to their basic needs?
We are called to follow the faithful example of Jesus. To disrupt our plans for the benefit of our neighbors. To change our schedule so that we might offer encouragement to a fellow human. To climb into the boat in which they are journeying – not to be a savior, but to be a neighbor. To remind them that they are not alone. To remind them of their value. To extend to them the love that God so generously offers each one of us.
Jesus models for us the idea that neighborliness is more important than orderliness. Faithfulness requires being attentive to the needs of those around us, even when we’ve made other plans. So, yes – Jesus’ walking on water provides us with a message of comfort and encouragement. A timeless gift in times of need. But also remember that Jesus walking on water provides us with a persistent challenge – a call to embrace disruption and to generously attend to the needs of our neighbors. May we seek to follow in Jesus’ faithful example. Amen.