From the Lectionary: Present in the Chaos

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

I'm blogging with the lectionary this year, and this week's reading comes from Matthew 14:22-33

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’  Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’

In the beginning, the Spirit of God hovered over the primordial waters. The water was dark and deep and everywhere, the ancients say, an endless and chaotic sea. Then God separated the water, pushing some of it below to make oceans, rivers, and seas, and vaulting the rest of the torrents above to be locked behind a glassy firmament. In Ancient Near Eastern cosmology, all of life hung suspended between these waters, vulnerable as a fetus in the womb.  

For the disciples of Jesus, the volatility and mystery of the sea was associated with the chaotic, the demonic, the unknown. A powerful storm conjured memories of the story of Noah’s flood when “the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened.”  Water was, and is, a powerful force that can in a moment give life and in another take it away. 

I know this fear—the fear of chaos, of evil, of death. It arrives unexpectedly and unwelcome, often just after I’ve made some great declaration of faith and convinced myself I’m in control. I’ve climbed out of the boat, put one foot in front of the other, and then suddenly realized the foolishness of the whole enterprise, the forces we’re all up against in this scary world.  They’re dropping bombs in Iraq now, and I know I’m supposed to be against that, but the alternative seems just as dangerous, just as awful. The cycle of violence, fear, and hate continues, on and on—only the word cycle doesn’t quite seem to fit, does it? It’s too neat, too orderly, too predictable. It seems more like chaos, like an unleashed sea.  

No rhyme. No reason. No guiding Hand. 

Notice that Jesus doesn’t tell his disciples to stop asking questions. He doesn’t tell them to abandon inquiry, lament, or struggle. He doesn’t chastise Peter for taking the risk and climbing out of the boat and into the thick of it. He simply reminds him, “I am here. Do not be afraid.” He is present—even in the chaos, even in the storm. We have to be present in the chaos too, to see Him and to trust Him again, to walk on water. 

I am a person of little faith.  I startle at every crack of thunder. I worry about the wind and the waves. I am not convinced that God is present in the chaos, much less able to save us from it. I am standing in the thick of it. And yet Jesus said that even a little faith is enough to uproot a mountain and send it into the wild sea. Even a little faith is enough. 


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