A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. When they had rowed three or three and a half miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were terrified. But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading. John 6.18-21.
“Mummy, daddy – Are we nearly there yet?” Every parent has heard that question from a child in the back of the car – often before the journey has even really started – and it doesn’t bode well when there are still a few hundred miles left to go! But it’s a question that the disciples (the “they” in the passage quoted above) must have been asking too as they found themselves caught up in a furious storm on the Sea of Galilee with the night as dark as pitch around them.
Jesus had gone off to pray in the hills on the eastern side of the Sea and sent them off on their own to cross to Capernaum on the western shore. “Are we nearly there yet?” they must have been asking themselves and each other; but it was impossible to tell. They reckoned they’d rowed about three and a half miles and it was only about five miles to where they were going, but the wind had been buffeting them all over the place and now they could be anywhere. It was impossible to see the shore. You could hardly see your hand in front of your face.
But then suddenly they could see something. It was there, just beyond the stern of the boat and coming towards them out of nowhere. It looked like – Aaaah! And now the hair was standing up on their arms and their jaws were clenching in horror. It looked like a person walking on the water! A demon perhaps. A djinn. But then it spoke; and the voice (oh, the relief!) was the voice of the one they knew and loved and trusted. It was the voice of Jesus; and hearing it they were more than happy to welcome the person who had come to them on the water into the boat. But as they did, something happened. Something weird. There was the scraping of shingle on the bow. They were on the shore! They were home and dry. How was that possible?
Erm – hang on, Neil. That’s putting rather a supernatural interpretation on “immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading” isn’t it? I mean, “immediately” just means “in no time at all,” doesn’t it? Very soon? In reality, it might have taken another fifteen, twenty, thirty minutes and they would have had to keep rowing to get there, surely?
No – sorry. In the Greek it’s “and immediately was the boat at the land towards to which they were going.” John is choosing his words carefully so that we will make the connection: Jesus gets in the boat and immediately the boat is on the beach. In other words: Once you have Jesus on board you have reached journey’s end.
This came to mind this morning as I read today’s Collect:
Creator of the heavens
who led the Magi by a star
to worship the Christ-child:
guide and sustain us,
that we might find our journey’s end
in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Before we met Jesus and were willing to to “take him on board” we were in a perpetual state of on-the-way-ness. We pursued numerous goals – all of which were set to get us to where we wanted to be in life but all of which were for ever being abandoned in favour of more attractive alternatives. Sometimes we made it; but found that every arrival, however exciting initially, soon became tinged with disappointment, so that new goals had to be set. Robert Louis Stephenson was presumably recognising this when he famously wrote: “To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.” The journey is better than the journey’s end.
But not when the journey’s end is Jesus. And John wants us to understand that Jesus is the journey’s end for all who welcome him on board their lives. From that moment on, our life is no longer a journey (though I understand what people mean when they call it that) but is in fact an exploration of our destination. Our travelling days are over. We are in the promised land. We are in the Kingdom which is yet to come because, as Origen rightly said, Jesus is autobasileia – the Kingdom itself – and once we have him and he has us, we are there. We have reached our journey’s end.
Once, having been to the theatre in London, my wife and I walked down a couple of streets hoping to find a taxi that was free. Eventually we managed to flag one down and hopped in. “Orso’s Restaurant, Wellington Street, please,” I told the driver. He turned round in his seat – presumably to see if I was really as stupid as I sounded – then slowly pointed across the road. And there it was – Orso’s Restaurant. “You’re already there, gov,” he said. “You’re already there.”
Important for us Christians to realise that, I think. That when Jesus is in our lives, it can truly be said of wherever it is we are wanting to go: “You’re already there.”