This coming Sunday’s Gospel has more than one miracle. Sure, it has the obvious suspension of natural law when flesh-and-blood walks on water toward the end. But don’t miss the much greater miracle launching right off the top of the lesson,
And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray.
The divine Son of God who can walk on water and calm storms and raise the dead and such has to find privacy to pray.
The great miracle is the Incarnation, best described in John 1:14,
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
The Son of God – the Word – was not subject to confusion, weakness, exhaustion, rejection, pain, death, or any of the other afflictions known by mortal creatures.
But in the miracle of the Incarnation, the perfection of God is suspended, and the Son of God is clothed with our finite flesh and all that comes with it.
Matthew discloses the miracle in what seems like simple narration of events,
Jesus dismissed the crowds – while in the flesh, the Word who created all things can find his creatures overwhelming and distracting.
he went up on the mountain – while in the flesh, the Son who was in the bosom of the Father (John 1:18) must resort to the primitive human practice of closing the distance to heaven by going to a high place.
by himself – while in the flesh, the One who in the Holy Spirit shares perfect unity with the Father experiences the human reality of separation and isolation.
to pray – while in the flesh, the instantaneous and perpetual love of Father, Son and Spirit is interfered with and the Son must reach out with words of prayer like any mortal.
But these limits under which Jesus operates are only one aspect of the miracle. Even greater is the love for us that it reveals.
Imagine for a moment that you received the power to live without anything unpleasant ever intruding. No pain. No losses. No disappointments. No rejections. Just a constant state of love and joy.
Would you waive that power, once it was yours?
That’s what God does in the miracle of the Incarnation. The state of perfect love and joy is waived for a season in the flesh, up to and including death, so that those who are in the flesh can come to perfect love and joy with God.
Now wait a minute, you might say, we all sacrifice for those we love. And you would be right to an extent. We’re all made in the image of God, and so we can do some miniature imitation of Him. Our love for others can be sacrificial as we occasionally set aside our pleasures and preferences in order to care for them.
But the fact remains that even at our best, we are not free from the pains of the flesh. We get sick and tired and we die. Jesus did not have to endure any of it – he chose it. He chose us in a great miracle of love, and with us he chose his own suffering and limitation.
So don’t miss the miracle when you hear this Sunday’s Gospel. Jesus walks on water, but that’s just to highlight the supernatural suspension of glory when he later muddles along alone, lugging the instrument of his execution, screaming of abandonment and dying in the flesh like all of us.
It is his loving choice to do so, and that love is the power through which He, as if pulling sinking Peter out of the lake, will reach into our death and raise us to new and everlasting love and joy.