There are very few passages in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke which have a parallel in the Fourth Gospel. The Passion and Resurrection of Christ, of course, appear in all four, as also the feeding of the five thousand. Today's Gospel is in some ways even more unusual, in that the story of St Peter walking on the water is found in Matthew, Mark and John but not Luke.
Perhaps St Luke thought that this story added nothing, theologically speaking, that he had not told in the story of the calming of the storm. For there, too, we find Jesus showing his mastery over the elements, his power to control the storm and bring order out of chaos. In relating today's story, Matthew, like Mark, is unusual in having Jesus use a phrase more normally associated with John's Gospel: 'I am He.'
This is surely because the evangelists all recognise, and want us to recognise, that this power of Jesus is not some magical ability but springs from his very identity. Jesus deliberately echoes the words of the Lord to Moses on Mount Sinai:
I AM who I AM. Say this to the People of Israel: 'I AM has sent me to you.'
We might miss this in our translations, which have Jesus say to the disciples 'It is I! Do not be afraid.' But if we read the Greek we see that he says more than this: ego eimi, 'I AM -- do not be afraid.' We should be unafraid of the storms of life because of who Jesus is: the Lord, the Creator God who strides over the stormy waters, who walks upon the chaotic waves of the sea and brings from them life and goodness.
Thou dost rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, thou stillest them. (Ps 89)
If something appears in all four Gospels like this theme of Jesus's power over the waters of the sea, then we may be sure that it is something absolutely essential to our faith. The many differences point to the fact that there are more aspects to Christ's life and ministry than can be encompassed in a single picture of him; but some things cannot be omitted from any picture. His saving death, his rising to new life, his feeding the multitudes -- as we later discover, with his own flesh and blood -- these are obvious examples. And today we have another, perhaps the most central of all: that Jesus Christ is 'I AM', the Creator God of the Old Testament.
Saint Peter recognises that this is what Jesus is claiming and he says -- again, literally in the Greek -- 'If you are, tell me to come to you ' He doesn't want to share in Jesus's magical powers, rather he sees that if the Creator God who brings order out of chaos, who strides the waters of the deep, is revealing himself in the person of a human being, is sharing in our humanity, then it is possible for us to share in his divinity, to conquer ourselves the chaos and destructiveness of our fallen world. He has come to us to invite us to come to him, over the water.
But Peter also sees that this is possible only in response to an invitation from Jesus to come to him; the way to walk the waters of the deep is to keep one's eyes fixed firmly on the eyes of our fellow human being, Jesus of Nazareth, friend of sinners, son of Mary, Son of God, our Creator and Saviour.
For our religion is not about magical powers, but about a relationship, lived in love, with the Living God; if we fail, if we lose sight of it, our only recourse, like Peter's, is to hold out our hands for mercy and cry 'Lord, save me.' And we can be sure that, though we may fail him time and time again, he will never let us down.