As a child I spent so much of my summertime swimming. There were days when I would arrive for swim practice early in the morning and not leave until late afternoon. I remember having a high-end theological discussion one day with my best friend while we sat on the edge of the pool. She asked me, “Do you think Jesus really walked on water?” I responded affirmatively, and she then asked, “Do you think we should try, too?” At the time, Jesus walking on water seemed like one of the coolest superhero moves any character we’d heard about perform — it was right up there with the ability to fly or to become invisible. So, being our six year old selves, we gave it a shot. I’d like to say that we ran across the surface of the pool, but of course, we splashed right into the water, and continued on with our playing.
The story of Jesus walking on water in John 6 sounds a lot like a superhero trick on the surface — the disciples get into a boat at night, and it starts storming. Jesus didn’t catch up to them until their boat had floated three or four miles out from the shore, and then they see a figure in the distance. As happens so often in the gospels, Jesus states, “I am. Don’t be afraid” (v. 16-20). And before they could pull him into the boat, they reached the shore (v. 21).
Jesus doesn’t just skip around on the water or take a few steps — he walks miles to catch up to the disciples’ boat, which is an exceptionally cool miracle in its own right. It has so much more underlying it if you dig a little bit deeper, though, and jump back into the creation narrative of Genesis and into Job.
In the first verse of the Bible we read the words, “When God began to create the heavens and the earth — the earth was without shape or form, it was dark over the deep sea, and the spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:1-2). God dwells over the waters, and even commands them in the very first verse of the biblical text. In Job 38, God cajoles Job, saying, “Who enclosed the Sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment, the dense clouds its wrap, when I imposed my limit for it, put on a bar and doors and said, ‘You may come this far, no farther; here your proud waves stop’? …Have you gone to the sea’s sources, walked in the chamber of the deep?” (Job 38:8-11; 16). God shows full and complete control over creation, and specifically water in this text. In the words of my husband, “God is wrestling creation into submission.”
Then we have Jesus walk on water. And it may seem like some neat magic trick or superhero move, but what he’s actually doing is drawing our attention to Genesis and to Job. Jesus shows us that he has just as much control over the creation and over the water as God does. And in so doing, he shows us his relationship with God: he is not every other person, he is the exceptional manifestation of God that we get to love and worship. And beyond our attempts to walk on water, may we know that we have a God who hovered over the original waters and will walk on water to meet us in the storm.