Risk Taking

Matthew 14:13-33 (especially 22-33)

In Yosemite National Park stands a 3,000-foot wall of granite known as El Capitan. It’s long been a rock climber’s dream, but it’s a daring dream. Reaching the top “used to take days to complete with the aid of ropes, safety gear, and a partner,” Olga R. Rodriguez reported in TIME. “In the past few decades, speed climbers working in tandem and using ropes have set records in reaching the top of the steep cliff.”

On June 3, 2017, Alex Honnold smashed those records, taking about four hours to summit El Capitan—without ropes, safety gear, or a partner.

Honnold, a native of Northern California, is 31 years old but has 20 years of climbing experience—at 11, he started indoor rock climbing. He left the University of California Berkeley in order “to conquer major summits around the world.”

He prepared for this El Capitan climb for two years. While the climb is certainly an extraordinary physical challenge—at one point “2,300 feet off the ground … there are very small holds where only a thumb can fit”—Honnold said that the “mental hurdle” was even harder.

“To walk up to the base of the climb without rope and harness, it just feels a little outrageous,” he said. “Getting over that side of it was the hardest part.”

In our Gospel reading we have two incidents of risk taking on the part of the disciples.  The first is when Jesus challenges them to respond to the need of feeding the masses (10,000 plus people?).  They had instructed Jesus to send the crowds away because it was getting to be mid to late afternoon and the people needed food—and the disciples wanted a break!

Jesus tells them, “You feed them.”

We cannot, they respond.  All we have is a couple of fish and five loaves of bread.  

Without argument or discussion, Jesus takes charge.  He commands the people to be seated in groups of fifty.

He takes the lunch.

He blesses the lunch.

He breaks the lunch apart and it miraculously is multiplied.  

He gives it to His disciples who in turn distribute it to the crowds. 

Afterwards, when all have eaten their fill the disciples gather the leftovers and fill twelve baskets with the plenty God has provided.

“He Giveth More Grace”

We give in to fear—fear of those different than us, fear of someone taking what is ours, fear of not having enough, fear of being responsible for someone when we can hardly take care of ourselves.  That fear causes us to build walls of division.  That fear causes us to arm ourselves with weapons to defend and keep what we think is ours alone.  We give in to greed and selfishness, we give in to division and evil thinking that under normal circumstances we would never cave into. 

God’s grace breaks through that painful part of of pathetic humanness.   When our hoarded resources give out, then God’s resources kick into gear!

That is the first part of risk taking.  Seeing past ourselves.  Seeing past our limitations.  Seeing past our fears and negative thinking.  Not giving into selfishness and greed or laziness!

The second part is after the multitude has been fed.  Jesus sends everyone away—His disciples by boat to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, and the crowds back home.  Then He goes by Himself to pray in solitude.  John the Baptist has been murdered.  His ministry was to point to Jesus, and now he is dead.

Jesus responds like us when we experience loss.  He doesn’t ignore the crowds or their needs, but He also goes off by Himself to pray and recenter Himself.  

After He has spent time alone in prayer He rejoins His disciples who have only made it halfway across the lake.  They have experienced opposing winds and have made no headway for hours despite arduous rowing.  They are tired and exhausted.  

Jesus comes out to them walking on the water.  A bit unusual you might say!  The disciples are certainly caught off guard and give in to fear and superstition.  They are seeing ghosts and cry out in terror.  Mind you, not fear, but terror.  They are petrified.  

Jesus responds immediately by saying, “have courage eimi egow,” the last phrase literally translated is “I am!”  You might recognize that as the translation for the Hebrew name for God, Jehovah or Yahweh, which literally means “I am.”  

Jesus is more than a mere human.  He is not a superhuman, or elevated man with extra ordinary powers.  He is God-in-human flesh.  Fully human and yet also fully God.  The disciples were slowly getting to see and understand just who this Man is they were following and learning from.

Peter, impetuous, compulsive, out-spoken Peter, says, “If it really is You, Lord, invite me to come out to You on the water.”

Jesus’ response is simple.  “Come!”

He doesn’t lecture or give instructions.  He doesn’t warn or caution Peter.  He says simply, “come!”

And Peter does.

All goes well as Peter steps out of the boat and begins to make headway toward Jesus walking on the water.  Faith overrides fear.  Realistic thinking takes a backseat to Peter’s desire to meet Jesus out on the stormy waves.  

But then “reality” hits.  Walking on water is impossible.  Look at the size of those waves.  I am going to lose my balance.  And then he loses his focus on Jesus and goes down into the water that a moment ago contrary to science had supported him.

He cries out as he sinks below the waves, “Lord, save me!”  

Immediately Jesus is there.  Immediately Jesus grabs hold of Peter’s arm.  Immediately they are back at the boat.  They are on top of the water again and step into the “safety” of the boat.  And immediately the wind and waves cease. 

Do we trust God above all things?  Or do we trust circumstances?  Can God’s presence hold us in good times and in bad? Or do we only trust God when things are going our way? 

What about when we experience opposing winds, circumstances that go against us and rob of us comfort and peace?  What about when the wind and waves of life swamp us and swallow us whole?  

Can we walk on water?  Can we see Jesus as the Great I Am with us, no matter what?  

God, give us courage to see You as You are, Almighty God, with us even in the midst of life with its storms and pressing needs that overwhelm us.  Don’t let us give in to fear or greed, or selfish thinking, words and actions.  Give us courage to be like You and to follow where You lead.  In Your name we pray.  Amen!

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