I have spent my life in port cities—New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Yokosuka, Japan, Newport, R.I. and, for the last few decades, Norfolk, Virginia. It’s a constant marvel to see huge naval carriers and small fishing boats, purposeful freighters and sturdy tugboats, massive oil tankers and tall sailing ships, plying the waters of oceans, bays and rivers.
But being on a ship in a storm—especially a small boat like that of
the disciples—is flat-out scary. In a way no non-sailor can ever
imagine, the deck lurches beneath you, the waves threaten to engulf
you, and the wind roars and shifts as if bent on destroying you.
It seems odd to us now, but in earlier times most sailors didn’t know how to swim. It’s why the famous Irish sweaters were knitted in such intricately individual patterns — so their wearer could be identified when he washed up on shore, dead.
No wonder the disciples were so stunned to see Jesus casually walking on the water, undeterred by the tossing waves that kept their boat offshore and unbothered by the driving wind. At his invitation, Peter got out of the boat; to his credit, he gave it his best shot, but he was absolutely terrified. Who wouldn’t be?
Two songs come immediately to my mind whenever the readings touch on the perils of the sea. “Eternal Father, Strong to Save (MELITA)” has long been known as the Navy hymn.
The other may be harder to find, but a good setting of Psalm 107 is a must for your repertoire—especially if you live in a maritime community. Boats are bigger and safer now that they were in biblical times, but the fearsome power of the sea has not changed. Ask the people of Japan.