“Courage. I am. No fear.”
Jesus spoke these words to his disciples as they tossed on the Sea of Galilee. It had been a long night, their boat battered by waves, and now they saw Jesus walking toward them over the water like an apparition. They were afraid.
This verse is often translated as “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” I prefer Reynolds Price’s translation above, because it distills Jesus’ words to their essence. Matthew 14:27 serves as a bare bones reminder of what matters in the life of faith.
The word “courage” takes its root from the French word corage and the Latin cor, which means heart. Jesus calls us to live in the heart, in an attitude of trust, rather than the head-based attitude of control. This is a courage based on surrender, turning over the myriad worries that block our awareness of God.
“Take heart,” Jesus says, “I am here,” and even more succinctly, “I am.” These are the same words God spoke to Moses from the burning bush in the book of Exodus. When Moses asks, “Who shall I say sent me?” he is asking for a name, but God in essence tells him that there is no name.
God is the name beyond names, “I Am That I Am,” or “I Will Be What I Will Be,” or “I Will Be What I Was,” or any configuration of tenses, depending on how you want to read them. There is no scholarly consensus, although the words are usually translated “I Am What I Am.” (Exodus 3:14)
Jesus is claiming the same name for himself, a name beyond reason and understanding, a name beyond doubt and fear. “I Am.” And then he adds the words that echo, in various forms and contexts, throughout the Hebrew Bible and New Testament: “Do not be afraid.” Where God is, fear does not exist.
I John 4:18 tells us that “perfect love casts out fear.” If love is synonymous with God, as I believe, then “the problem is fear; the answer is love,” as a friend’s grandmother said on her deathbed.
Matthew 14:27 gives us a blueprint for how to deal with fear: Move out of the head and into the heart, remember God’s presence in the midst of all that is, allow that presence to dissolve our fear.
It takes courage to set aside our worries in this way, courage to open ourselves in trust and in love. Courage to turn to God, the Great I Am, when all we want to do is hunker down in fear.
Remember these words, hear them whispered in your heart: “Courage. I am. No fear.”
What fears can you release into God’s perfect love? What gets in the way of that surrender?