The following commentary on the walking on the water in which Our Lord saves Peter from drowning in the storm is from Pope Benedict XVI’s Angelus address delivered from the Papal Residence, Castel Gandolfo on Sunday, August 7, 2011.
In this Sunday’s Gospel we find Jesus who, after withdrawing to the mountain, prays throughout the night. The Lord, having distanced himself from the people and the disciples, manifests his communion with the Father and the need to pray in solitude, far from the commotion of the world.
This distancing, however, must not be seen as a lack of interest in individuals or trust in the Apostles. On the contrary, Matthew recounts, Jesus made the disciples get into the boat, “and go before him to the other side” (Mt 14:22), where he would see them again. In the meantime, the boat “was many furlongs distant from the land, beaten by the waves; for the wind was against them” (v. 24). And so, in the fourth watch of the night [Jesus] came to them, walking on the sea” (v. 25); the disciples were terrified, mistaking him for a ghost and “cried out for fear” (v. 26). They did not recognize him, they did not realize that it was the Lord.
Nonetheless Jesus reassured them: “Take heart, it is I; have no fear” (v. 27). This is an episode from which the Fathers of the Church drew a great wealth of meaning. The sea symbolizes this life and the instability of the visible world; the storm points to every kind of trial or difficulty that oppresses human beings. The boat, instead, represents the Church, built by Christ and steered by the Apostles.
Jesus wanted to teach the disciples to bear life’s adversities courageously, trusting in God, in the One who revealed himself to the Prophet Elijah on Mount Horeb “in a still small voice” [the whispering of a gentle breeze] (1 Kings 19:12).
The passage then continues with the action of the Apostle Peter, who, moved by an impulse of love for the Teacher, asks him to bid him to come to him, walking on the water. “But when he saw the wind [was strong], [Peter] was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’” (Mt 14:30).
St Augustine, imagining that he was addressing the Apostle, commented: the Lord “leaned down and took you by the hand. With your strength alone you cannot rise. Hold tight to the hand of the One who reaches down to you” (En. in Ps. 95, 7: PL 36, 1233), and he did not say this to Peter alone but also to us.