Walking on Water

Matthew 14:22-33

The story of Jesus and Peter walking on water is a fascinating and mystical story that is pregnant with meaning. Can we perform miracles? Can we walk on water?

Neil Douglas-Klotz says a tradition of both native Middle Eastern and Hebraic mysticism says that each statement of sacred teaching must be examined from at least three points of view: the intellectual, the metaphorical, and the universal (or mystical).

walk on water     The first viewpoint is the “face value” or literal interpretation. What the western world doesn’t realize is that Aramaic words, the language of Jesus, often can be translated in several ways. As I described in my book on the beatitudes, “the meek” could easily be translated as “the gentle,” or “the humble, those submitted to God’s will,” or “those who have softened what is rigid inside,” or “those who have dissolved heavy morality within.”

The second viewpoint is to consider how a story is a metaphor for our lives or the life of a community. Again, you have to consider the multiple “literal” meanings. As in “meek,” where are the rigid places in our lives or in the life of our society? How do they prevent us from inheriting the earth?

From the universal or mystical point of view, one would contemplate what universal truth arises from the teaching that guides me to act responsibly from a new understanding? Unfortunately for those who like to see things in black and white, and who think one truth applies to every person, this viewpoint (interpretation) is highly individual and specific to the life of the contemplator. [1]

One viewpoint does not exclude the others. They live in tension within the one who is seeking understanding and guidance. The bottom line is that stories in the Bible are capable of giving different meanings depending upon the readers and their situation.

From the literal viewpoint, maybe the story of Peter attempting to walk on water is the common request that comes when we face trouble – “Jesus, if you are who you say you are, command me to do a miraculous thing – and that will prove to me that you are who you say you are.”

“Let the few words I pray supernaturally heal my friend or loved one.” How much confidence do you have when you do this?

From the metaphorical viewpoint, what could the image of Jesus and Peter walking on water portray? Here’s a far-out metaphor for you to ponder. Water is a metaphor for the Law. Both are necessary for life in community and for the life of an individual. You can’t live without them.

And yet, Jesus walked on water as if he was above the Law. He disagreed with the Law in places – don’t repay evil with evil like the Law permits you to do. Don’t kill your enemy or people who commit evil acts (adultery, blasphemy, sorcery, murder, break Sabbath laws) like the Law permits you to do. Help your neighbor on the Sabbath if (s)he’s in need even though the Law says you can’t work.

Some water is bad to drink. It’s tainted by culture and tradition. Some of the Law is not helpful in bringing harmony and order to a community. Some law does harm rather than good. So we have to look to the image and example of Jesus to make sure we apply the Law in love. Like Martin Luther said, “Love is to be the interpreter of law.”

A mystical viewpoint of the story? For me, it’s about trust and following Jesus. Fear is the opposite of trust. Do not fear following your heart (“Do you not know that Christ is within you?” 2 Cor. 13:5) when you want to imitate Jesus, especially when it involves choosing love over law. That’s the deep truth for me at this time in my life journey.

Let me remind you that the Aramaic word for truth that I explained in chapter 17 of In Living Color: Heaven is “right or harmonious direction, that which liberates and opens possibilities.”

You’ll have to do your own self-analysis to figure out what walking on water might mean for you in your life. I’m confident that if you trust that Jesus has shown us the example of love to follow, you too can walk on water as you face the trials and storms of life.


[1] Neil Douglas-Klotz, Prayers of the Cosmos.

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