At that time, Jesus made the Disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He dismissed the crowds. And after He had dismissed the crowds, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. When evening came, He was there alone, but the Disciples’ boat by this time was many furlongs distant from the land, beaten by the waves; for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea. But when the Disciples saw Jesus walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear. But immediately He spoke to them, saying, “Take heart, it is I; have no fear.” And Peter answered Him, “Lord, if it is Thee, bid me come to Thee on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus; but when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out His hand and caught him, saying to him, “O man of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped Him, saying, “Truly, Thou art the Son of God.” And when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. St. Matthew 14:22-34
We find the disciples have been sent, by Christ, out onto the lake at night. Their job is to sail across to the other side. No Problem! These men are fishermen. Every one of them certainly began sailing as children. The lake had been their classroom, it was their office, it was their home away from home. When the winds and the waves came, I’m sure that the disciples, who had been raised on the sea, thought, “Not a problem. We’ve been through many a storm before. This is no big deal. We can handle this. We can do this! Come on, get those oars going, we can beat it!”
The Romans divided the night into watches of three hours each, and there were four watches to the night. During the first watch of the night they began with great intensity. They kept rowing and rowing and getting nowhere. They began to get discouraged. In the second watch of the night, I’m sure just as they were tempted to quit, some of the disciples said, “Come on, we can do this! We’ve done this before. This is nothing new. We’ve done it, let’s do it again.” They continued to struggle. In the third watch of the night they still had gone nowhere and more were tempted to despair. But maybe there was a lone voice, one or two perhaps, who said, “Come on, we can do this! We can do it, we’ve done it before. Don’t give up now, keep struggling.” In the fourth watch of the night there was utter despair. I imagine the disciples said to one another, “We’re doomed. We can’t do it. We’ve lost. The sea is too great for us.
If things are difficult we might be tempted to think God must be against us. If things are difficult we might sometimes think that we have done something wrong and we are being punished. If I find myself in pain, in distress, in suffering, am I far from God? Jesus comes to His disciples in the fourth watch of the night. He comes when it is darkest. He comes after they have struggled for nine or ten hours. He comes to them not at the beginning of their struggle, but He comes to them at the end of their struggle.
Why did Christ wait until the 4th watch of the night? Why does He wait until the 4th watch of the night?
There are many answers to a question like this. One answer is certain, God lets us struggle so that we might be humbled by our struggle. It is then that our Lord came to the disciples. He lets us struggle so that we might see that we have nothing.
He lets us struggle so that we might have faith; and God lets us struggle so that we might see the reality of who He is. What is it that the disciples said after this took place? They fell down on their knees before Christ and said, “Truly Thou art the Son of God.” We know the truth when we have struggled to believe.
The revelation of divine truth does not often come to us when life is comfortable. The revelation which is existentially real to our hearts does not come when everything is going right, when our refrigerators are full and our bank accounts have extra and everybody is treating us the way we want to be treated and everything is explainable, and we’re happy as clams. It doesn’t come then. The revelation of divine truth comes when we struggle and in our struggle we believe.
When we’ve struggled, and not quit; when we’ve struggled through the first watch of the night into the second watch of the night, and through the second watch of the night into the third watch of the night, through the third watch of the night into that watch of despair, the fourth watch; it’s when we’ve suffered the agony of loneliness and the agony of despair and the agony of facing our own helplessness and the agony of life’s futility, and the agony of the fact that life does not make sense-it’s then, when we struggle to believe, that we are granted the knowledge that is salvation. We may be tempted to look around and complain to God about how others have it easy. Abba Anthony thought about the depth of God judgments and he asked, “Lord, how is it that some die when they are young, while others drag onto extreme old age? Why are there those who are poor and those who are rich? Why do wicked men prosper and why are the just in need? He heard a voice answering him, “Anthony, keep your attention on yourself; these things are according to the judgment of God, and it is not to your advantage to know anything about them.”