When I was a young boy visiting my great-grandparents, I would sleep on a mattress on the floor of my great-grandfather’s room.
One night, I woke up and was confused about where I was. It was very dark in the room, and I could hardly make out my surroundings. Suddenly I realized there was a figure standing over me in the doorway.
I wanted to cry out, but I was so terrified I could not make a noise. The figure standing there softly spoke my name, “Max.”
At the sound of the voice, my fear and terror were replaced with a sense of peace and security. I recognized that voice as the voice of my father and felt safe. As I calmed down, I also remembered where I was and why I was not in my bed.
In the middle of John 6, the disciples find themselves in a boat at night with a storm raging around them. They look up and see a figure approaching them. John says it is when they see the figure that the disciples become afraid. Then Jesus identifies himself and the disciples are moved from fear to welcoming Jesus into their midst.
Unlike my father who spoke my name that night, when Jesus identifies himself to the disciples, he says, “I Am.” Most translations render that as “It is I.” However, the more literal translation is simply, “I Am.”
‘I Am’ goes back to the story of Moses in Exodus 6. When Moses asks for God’s name, the initial response is simply, ‘I Am.’
John plays on this understanding of the divine name throughout his gospel. There are a series of sayings where Jesus identifies himself as bread, water, gate shepherd, etc. All these images are introduced as I am the bread of heaven, I am the gate, etc. But there are a few stories where Jesus just speaks, ‘I Am.’ In these simple ‘I Am’ passages, Jesus’ divine nature emerges, his ability to transcend our immediate needs and concerns.
In this scene on the Lake, Jesus says, “I Am: do not fear.” Because Jesus is, we do not have to fear the storms. We can welcome him into our midst and find safety and comfort in the midst of the chaos.