LETTING GO OF OUR CRUTCH
MATTHEW 14 : 22 – 33, MARK 6 : 45 – 52
AUGUST 11, 1996, BY TAD MITSUI
Was it Winston Churchill who once said, "All we have to fear is fear itself"? Fear is, in most cases, the fear of the unknown. Once you know what it is that you are afraid of, it often turns out to be a simple thing. This is why it is important to learn to get out of a familiar place and to experience new things. You may find that there is nothing to be afraid of. Because we are often hesitant to let go of familiar things, we are gripped by fear of things that we don”t know too much about and become paralysed. The Gospel writer gave us a lesson about the power of faith in the face of fear by telling the story of Jesus walking on water.
Most of the people who read this story usually pay a lot of attention to a supernatural aspect of the story. "How could Jesus walk on water?" And often a miracle such as this is referred to as proof that Jesus Christ was the son of God. So if I may, I want to digress a little here and deal with the question of miracles.
To me, the question about whether miracles really happened or not is not important. I don”t object if some people see it as a proof that Jesus is the son of God. But to me, it isn”t the proof. Jesus was the saviour and the Lord, because of the way he loved us and not because he performed miracles. Besides miracles are rather common place in ancient literatures. If you read old stories from different cultures, you will know that miracle stories were a literary style many ancient people adopted. Even in the Bible there were many accounts of miracles performed by various people. There are even accounts of a contest between an Egyptian and Moses as to who performed better and more impressive miracles. And there are a few other similar stories in the Old Testament. They wrote those miracle stories to get some points across. They were not all that concerned about the factual details.
In recent years, we began to trust the scientific method and adopted scientific way of seeing things. In doing so, we have developed a rather unfortunate tendency to judge nature of truth scientifically at the expense of other human aspects. And if a story of an event is not a historical fact, we dismiss it as something as not true. That is very unfortunate. By doing so, we become unable to understand many human qualities that are important and real to us. There are many truly human experiences that can be expressed only in metaphors and mythical language. A man praises his wife he has been married to for sixty years, and says "She is as beautiful as the woman I dated sixty years ago." It is very touching. Surely nobody would dismiss such a comment as only silly words from an old man. We understand what he means. But as long as we use only shallow standards of factuality, objectivity, and visibility, we have become disabled human beings. We are no longer able to keep in touch with our deepest feelings and understand those of others. Miracle stories help us to recover one of our most important human faculties. We must recover our ability to communicate in depth about human realities through mythical language.
So let”s not worry about whether you can walk on water or not. That is not the point of the story. The points of today”s Gospel are about fear, letting go, and salvation from fear. Let me make three points:
1. Danger is often about perceptions. If you know what you are dealing with and what you are doing about it, often there is no danger. Wind and waves, especially on a small lake like the Galilee, are not dangerous. They become dangerous when we are afraid of them. The disciples who were left to their own devices, because Jesus wanted to be alone, were feeling left out and became afraid of wind and waves. Even when they saw Jesus approaching them, he became a cause of their fear. They thought it was a ghost.
Ignorance is often a cause of fear. We used to be afraid of many diseases, for example. The most of them are no longer causes of fear because we know what they are now. I noticed that in the remote villages of Africa where people were not exposed to modern western medicine, even a slight headache was a reason for a great concern. They were more sick than they should be, because they did not know what troubled them. In the mean time, they did not make as much fuss as we do about visible external injuries. It was kind of strange for me to notice that so long as they could see blood, they worried less than when they had internal pain. It is a case of fear of unknown.
Death and fear of death is another example. Death is as natural as life itself. But we fear death, because we don”t know what it is and what lies beyond. Knowledge can eliminate some fear. But we can not know everything. This is why faith and trust play a crucial role in allowing us to be free of fear and go forward. The more you trust someone who gives you assurance, the less you fear to go into a new passage of your life. Even death no longer is a cause of crippling fear, if we know what it is and where we will go after that.
2. Help does come when you are gripped with fear and can not cope, just like Jesus who came to the disciples on the lake. But the question is again whether we trust the helper and take the help or let it pass by because of distrust. Help does not fall into your lap when you just sit and do nothing. When the disciples saw Jesus coming to them, they thought that they were seeing a ghost. But when he spoke to them, "Do not be afraid. It is me." They were not afraid any longer. Help does come often in the most unexpected way. Walking on the water may sound incredible. But likewise, many difficult situations are resolved in some unexpected ways. The question is whether we trust the helper or not. That is the most important question. You have to take initiative to seize the opportunity. It does not impose itself on you. Mark”s Gospel tell the same story but has one interesting sentence which is not in Matthew”s account. It says, "Jesus came towards them walking on water. He intended to pass them by." Because fear is the result of your own perception, the resolution to overcome fear must come from your own initiative. You have to take it. Otherwise, the opportunity to go beyond the fear passes you by. God is the help in times of need, but you have to take action to take it.
3. Then you have to let go of some crutches, if you should go forward. Peter tried, and got off the boat managing the first few steps that had seemed impossible. Yes, Peter started to sink after a few steps, because he was not so sure about this "walking on water" business. But the first few steps must be taken. And Peter took them. In order to do that, you have to get off the boat. Remember when you first started on your two wheel bicycle, or went solo driving a car? You have to do it by yourself. No one can do it for you. Yes, the first few days or weeks, you do fall off the bike or scratch the side of the car. But that is the only way to get rid of the fear of the unknown, to learn a few lessons, and to go forward. But first you must learn to let go of things. For ceratin, we fail a few times. But that is natural. This is how God helps us to learn the lessons of life: you can”t walk on water unless you get off the boat. And when you do, you sink into water once or twice. We must learn not to feel too bad about our mistakes.
A man approached a farmer who was sitting on a front porch, and asked, "How”s your wheat coming along?" "Didn”t plant none." was the reply. "Really. Why?" "Afraid it would rain too much", said the farmer.
"Oh! Well, how”s your corn?" "Ain”t got none." "You didn”t plant corn either?" "Nope