Rev. Katherine Todd
Matthew 14: 22-33
Moses writes this about the righteousness that is by the law: “The person who does these things will live by them.” But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.
But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
“Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
In this story of Jesus and his disciples,
…after their great meal, the feeding of the five thousand,
…after hearing Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist was beheaded by Herod…
Jesus has had one LONG day, has he not?
Any one of these things – hearing evil news of murder of one’s own family member, traveling, unexpectedly working and healing all the sick, teaching the crowds, feeding the crowd – any of these would aloe have made for a full day.
And here Jesus is, dismissing the crowd by himself.
Notice, he has sent the disciples on ahead of him to cross the sea for a rest. But Jesus stays back to “dismiss the crowd.”
Jesus is the distraction.
Jesus is the feature.
The people are there to see him, and he takes those sacred moments and hours – to the end – to see them,
to be with them,
to heal them,
to teach them.
Now, I’d have recommended precisely the opposite scenario.
Of all his crew, I’d guess that it’s Jesus who has had the most emotionally draining day. HE is the one most in need of retreat, of sleep, of solitude. I would have recommended the disciples run interference. In fact, they could have rallied the crowd beforehand and afterward in my book. They could have saved Jesus’ time and energy considerably, if all he had to do was appear for a measured few hours in the public eye.
But Jesus has done the opposite.
For HE stays behind to dismiss the crowd.
Now, this image plays very well into the southern, Christian, stoic woman script I learned through-out my growing years.
As a southern, Christian, stoic woman, you come first and leave last. You ask what is needed of you from others and not what you need. You tend to others and not to yourself. You press emotions and issues tidily into closets, and keep on going. This describes my grandma to a tee. Anything less would be selfish, would it not!?
It has only been in the past couple decades that the toxicity of living this script for so long began to reveal itself to me. I was dying, more and more, to my truest self. I was co-dependent: caring for others while expecting them to care for me. Frustrated but unallowed to be frustrated, the closet doors to my emotions were becoming harder and harder to close and tuck away.
Now my wife, on the other hand, was not raised within this American, southern-woman culture. And she is good at taking care of herself.
It used to make me really annoyed.
She didn’t play by my internal script. SHE cared for herself – so she’d be renewed and have more to give. SHE exercised regularly – taking time for herself. SHE met up with friends and shared scrumptious meals.
And all of this grated my nerves.
Because I was downright jealous! I wanted to exercise regularly. I wanted to meet up with friends and share scrumptious meals. I wanted to be cared for and to feel renewed.
But I had been fed this lie that self-care was selfish.
I had been fed this lie that loving myself more meant loving others and God less.
I was living in the lie that this world is scarce – that some for me means less for you – and not in the abundance of Christ – that there is enough for both you and me, and that my wellbeing means I have more to give in relationship.
I had a lot to relearn. I needed to learn her ways!!
And so when I read what Jesus does here – staying back alone to dismiss the crowd – I get anxious. This is where I start to doubt my own self-care because Jesus’s action appears very self-less.
I bring this up to caution those of us who are tempted – like me – to return to those familiar places of guilt and self-neglect.
What we do see however, is that Jesus has more resources for taking care of himself. It seems he does not need to leave early to head back home by boat, seeing as he can simply walk across stormy seas on his own two feet, at will. He is not limited by his humanity – by fears and disbelief – he doesn’t sink like Peter; he is living fully within the power and possibility of God.
This plan of sending the disciples away first also affords Jesus the opportunity to be alone, and that is what he does. He seeks out a solitary place. He climbs a mountainside and there, he prays.
Jesus has done what he needs. Jesus is taking care of himself. EVEN JESUS, needs time alone, in communion with God.
How much moreso do we?
How much moreso do we need time alone?
How much moreso do we need time alone to pray?
As compassionate as Jesus is, he does not work through the night, no. He dismisses the crowd. He does this personally. He does this compassionately. But he does it. He sends folks away. He sends them home.
And then he retreats alone to the one place he is truly at home – with his Heavenly Father, with God.
This is Jesus taking care of himself.
This is Jesus taking time for himself.
This is Jesus drinking from the well of living water.
This is Jesus waiting on God, and rising up on wings, as eagles.
This is Jesus setting his boundary.
Though God the Son, Jesus is still in the flesh; therefore, he still needs rest, he still needs solitude, he still needs deliberate times of communion with God.
And following this time of renewal,
…he once again seeks out his disciples in their time of great need,
…and once again he shows them a glimpse of the Kingdom of God
– preaching without words, as he walks across the very sea amidst the storm.
Jesus preached all the time and only sometimes with words.
His actions speak the loudest.
And what comes through to me in this story is both his compassion to dismiss the crowds himself, face to face, and his boundaries at setting aside his evening to rest and prayer and renewal.
Some of us find it quite difficult to BOTH have compassion AND set boundaries.
But Love showed us both.
Jesus showed us both.
God shows us both.
When we love others while loving ourselves – setting healthy boundaries to take care of our own needs – we most shine God’s own love; we demonstrate God’s love, just as Jesus did on the evening of that very long day.
Let us pray.
God reveal to us when we are tempted to think more highly of ourselves than we ought; when we think we can and therefore try to do everything,
…as if we ourselves were you,
…as if we ourselves didn’t also need to retreat – to be alone, to hike and rest and pray.
God, we truly need you. Help us to know and to acknowledge our own boundaries and limitations. And may we honor who you’ve made us to be – limitations and all – by caring for ourselves with tender, gracious wisdom
…just as Jesus did on the evening of that LONG day.
In our LONG days, draw us into your presence and speak life into our death.
For we absolutely need you.
We need you.