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. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night 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.” Matthew 14.22-27.
It is, of course, true for every Christian that Jesus, by his Spirit, is present with them constantly. Even the psalmist realised that, if God is God, he must be everywhere all the time: “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there” (Psalm 139.7-8). That is all very true — but I can still so easily approach situations and events that frighten me and stress me out as if Jesus were not there in them, coming to me over the rough waters.
For the disciples on the lake, trying to row to the west, the strong wind blowing from the west was “against” them. (If that had been heading east it would have been “for” them.) But the Greek word is enantios and it can also mean “hostile to”. I find that very relevant this morning because, in a few hours, I have to meet with people whom I perceive as being “hostile” to me — though I suppose that, in truth, they are just not pushing me in the direction I want to be pushed. In any event, my heart “sinks” at the thought of the meeting.
So how wonderful that I am encouraged this morning to see Jesus coming on the scene and saying: “Tharseite, ego eimi, me phobeisthe.” Two commands with “ego eimi” at the centre. The first a positive command (tharseite) meaning “take courage” or “be bold” or “have confidence”. The second a negative command (me phobeisthe) meaning “do not be afraid” or “fear not”. And the reason the commands can be given … the reason I can obey them … is because the Jesus who commands them is “ego eimi”.
“Ego eimi” is simply “I am”. Yes, the words can have the sense of “it is I”, but they carry a far greater force than that. They are the words that God spoke to Moses when Moses asked God’s name. “Moses said to God, Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your fathers sent me to you”; and they ask me, “What is his name?” Then what shall I tell them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: “I AM has sent me to you”‘” (Exodus 3.13-14). In the Greek version of the Old Testament, those “I AM”s are “ego eimi”.
To Moses and to the Israelites whom he led, God was what the Book of Common Prayer calls “a very present help in trouble”. He came to them as a God involved in their lives (“I”), active to save and rescue and redeem them (“A”), and mighty in all his works (“M”).
So it is that Jesus comes to me this morning and, as the one involved in my life, active to save me, and mighty in all his works, he bids me “be bold” and “don’t be scared” because he, the great I AM goes with me.