Once you walk into the parted sea, on dry ground, it is too late to start thinking about swimming le
Updated: Jan 30
When I was young and first in college, taking physical education classes was mandatory. Besides a classroom course on health, where a book was read and tests on how well the students learned a book yielded a grade, five elective P. E. classes had to be taken. Each student got to choose which sports or exercises they wanted to sign up for; and then they learned the rules of that activity, with the grade based on one’s participation on a field, in a bowling alley, or on a court.
One that I chose was Beginner Swimming, which took place in the school’s swimming pool.
I learned how to swim long before I went to college, but I figured taking beginning swimming would be like an easy A. It was.
It was designed for people who had never learned how to swim, and the first weeks of the class we stood in the shallow end, held onto the side of the pool and practiced placing our faces in the water while blowing bubbles.
After three months of learning how to do the breast stroke and breathe while swimming, without drowning as we swam across the shallow end, never venturing out into the deep end, the final exam meant jumping into the deep end, off a diving board.
For us more advanced beginners, we had to jump off the high diving board, not dive, surface, and then swim the length of the pool, touching the edge at the shallow end.
For those who were still beginning swimmers, with less strength in swimming and breathing developed, they only had to jump off the low dive and swim, or dog paddle to the side of the pool, at the ladder to in the deep end.
Everyone did this, to varying degrees of apprehension, except one girl.
She walked out onto the low dive, looked at the deep water and fear overtook her. She would not jump into the water.
The coach pleaded with her. He told her that she would fail the course if she did not jump into the water. He assured her it was safe: he had positioned a few of his assistants – I assume members of the swimming team – dog paddling in the water with life preservers in their hands, ready to immediately come to her aid after she jumped in. There were other assistants standing along the end and side of the pool with long poles, which they held over the water … for her to grab hold of if need be.
They gave her a life vest to put on, so she would not sink after getting into the water.
She walked slowed out to near the end of the diving board. She leaned over and looked at the water. Her legs trembled. She had fear written all over her face. Everyone was encouraging her that it would be okay. Her saviors were in position and nothing bad would happen to her.
The girl refused to take the leap. She hurriedly got off the diving board and curled up in tears. The coach slammed his clipboard down on the tiles surrounding the pool and stormed off, saying, “You get an F!”
This boy got further than the girl in my class.
I remember that story while reading the Exodus story of Moses leading the children of Israel into the sea, with its waters parted, and dry land for them to walk across.
I imagine if I had been in a camp by the sea, I would have some sense of direction, knowing which way the sea was. Seas usually have a breeze, a scent and a sound associated with them. So, when Moses told everyone, “Get up. It’s time to head out,” they had to know he was marching them towards the sea, if not into it.
It was night when they left, but the pillar of cloud and fire stood between their camp and the Egyptian army, lighting up the darkness, preventing an attack. I presume that light was what allowed them to follow Moses into the sea, so they would not stumble on any rocks that might have been on their path.
Still, I imagine the darkness kept them from seeing that there was a wall of water to their left and their right, walls that towered over their heads.
They were walking where deep waters had been, on a level much deeper than the deep end of a swimming pool. They did this not because they knew how to swim, nor because they were brave. They did not march after Moses because he offered them a passing grade.
They followed Moses blindly, with faith. I imagine none of the children of Israel even saw the walls of water; but if they did see them, there certainly were no knees knocking or crying about how dangerous it all seemed.
The path seemed so safe, even the Egyptians took the same course into the sea, chasing after the Israelites. At first, the path was dry, and I imagine they were too busy hurrying to catch the rear of the Israelite column to see there were walls of water on their left and right, towering higher and higher over their heads, the further they pursued.
Today we read that, “The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers.” In Exodus 14:7 we know the number of chariots was 600, and the drivers were the best he had.”
I imagine, if a horse and chariot were 10 feet in length, and five feet in width, then the path wide enough for three chariots to be safely side-by-side, with a safe following distance of 20 feet and a safe passing lane – should one lose a wheel and need to be by-passed – there would be 30 foot wide road, 20 feet deep, just for three chariots at a time entering the sea. There were then 200 such distances, the Egyptians would have gone at least 6,000 feet into the sea; and that assumes a nice flat area uncovered, without any large boulders that were previously underwater.
That calculates to 1.1364 miles. Since it is safe to assume the Egyptians were in the sea at the same time the Israelites were in the sea, I imagine it would be safe to project a minimum of 2 miles of sea floor were traveled by the Israelites.
If you walk a mile out into the deep end, there is no quick way out of the water, even if the ground below your feet is dry.
When dawn came, and light made the situation known, the Egyptians realized where they were. The dry ground began to turn to mud. They were seized by fear. They wanted to run away; but it was too late.
“At dawn the sea returned to its normal depth.” It “covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh.” We then read, “Not one of them survived.”
Still, as the waters were overwhelming the Egyptians, those Israelites still walking along the sea floor were safe. They “walked on dry ground through the sea, (with) the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.”
Those who had reached the shore, along with Moses, they watched as this miracle unfolded – Egyptians tossed and drowned in the rush of water, while Israelites still walked between unmoving walls of water. The Israelites saw the dead bodies wash ashore and “the people feared the LORD and believed the LORD was with Moses.”
Some say, “Seeing is believing,” but the Israelites did not see the miracle as it was happening. If they had seen where they were going … if they knew how impossible that was … they would have been like that girl on the low diving board in my P.E. class … frozen with fear … unable to move beyond the shore, into the water … regardless of how many promises of safety were presented.
If you remember the story of Jesus walking on the Sea of Galilee, the disciples were in a boat and fearful for their lives. Peter said to Jesus, “Call me to walk on the water and I will come.” Jesus said, “Come!”
Peter took steps in response to that instruction from Jesus. The same can be said of the children of Israel, after they heard Moses say, “Come!”
But, Peter began to see the impossibility of water being a safe place to take a walk. He became like an Egyptian, sinking into the waves … until Jesus pulled him out.
Jesus said, “Oh you of little faith. Why did you doubt?”
It is all about faith. It is all about hearing the call and responding to the call without thought.
Thinking only gets you in trouble.
Paul’s letter to the Christians of Rome points to those with weak faith. He was talking about Christians criticizing other Christians for not knowing when the Sabbath was, or what to eat and not eat, or when to fast and when to feast. Too much thinking was going on, about what other people were doing, rather than simply doing as instructed, by the voice within.
In the Gospel reading today, Matthew told how Peter went to Jesus and asked how many times he needed to forgive one of those who made up the assembly of followers – the church led by Jesus. Peter wanted to know when he could stop forgiving and start finger pointing, if he saw some of the followers were not doing something right, according to the Law of Moses.
Both of these readings point out issues of faith, as focusing on Christians judging other Christians, and not about Christians judging anyone not a Christian.
As Christians, we are all members of the same family, but we are each on different levels of spiritual attainment. It is like all of us are in a Beginner Swimming class, but some of know how to swim and others are just learning. Some of us are symbolically eleven times seven (77*), meaning we already know how to breathe as we stroke, blowing out air with our face in the water, and breathing in air as we turn our heads to the surface, all as we stroke with our arms and kick with our feet. Some of us are symbolically sevens, meaning we know where the pool is, but we still are not sure about going into the water.
If you recall when I explained the symbolism of the number “eleven,” Jesus is saying how those simply following the law forgive seven times. However, those who have been elevated by the Holy Spirit, as “eleven” people, they forgive by teaching those in need of forgiveness how to receive the spirit. True Christians then become the teaching instructors for the beginners.
We are all either teaching or learning how to trust in God and not drown in the sea of misery that surrounds us in the world. We are all either teaching or learning to follow Christ whenever he calls, without fear, doubt, or question.
We are all either filled with the Holy Spirit or seeking to be so filled. Without that commonality we have no meaningful relationship.
As family, we have all embarked on the path of Christianity, just like the Israelites entered into the sea, with walls of water on the right and on the left. Our enemies are on our heels.
Our lives are now completely dependent on faith.
We should all help each other to the other side, rather than complain about how impossible things seem.
We must not get tired of holding the pole of salvation out to yet another one who has ventured out on the diving board, but has little faith and too many doubts.
* The reading says Jesus told Peter to forgive “seventy times seven.” This means “seventy times” (7 X 10), with another “seven” then added, making eleven times seven be the instruction. It does not means 70 X 7 = 490.
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