The book of Matthew, first gospel in a set of four, says that Jesus came to the disciples on the fourth watch. His disciples, fishermen by trade, had gone fishing and a storm came on what had been a calm sea.
The Romans divided the night into four three-hour segments and the Jews had adopted these divisions. The fourth watch was the last part of the night between three and six in the morning. This was the last watch, the end of the night.
The fourth watch is that point where you wake up and it is so dark, you look at the clock beside your bed, and you sigh deeply – you can still sleep for another 2 hours. Or it’s the time when you have to be at the airport for the early morning flight, that flight that leaves at 6 am, passengers sporting only sleep-blurred eyes and coffee breath.
Or it’s the “darkest before dawn” part of the night.
It meant this storm on the sea of Galilee had raged all night long. It meant that the disciples were exhausted and defeated, that they had battled a critical weather event with every ounce of their human strength – but it was not enough. The storm was going to defeat them.
Until Jesus came and spoke words that calmed the sea.
The fourth watch. My mind fills with questions: Why did Jesus wait so long? Why did this miracle worker not intervene sooner? Why, when it was at their last bit of strength, did he suddenly appear – a ghost-like figure walking on the stormy seas?
My questions will never be answered and even as I write them I know these questions reflect my heart – a heart that finds faith hard, that sometimes thinks God waits too long to intervene. Too long to move hearts and souls, too long to change circumstances. I want him to come on the first watch, not the fourth.
The death count in Gaza, the civil war in Syria, the conflict in the Ukraine, and terrible persecution of Yazidis and Christians in Iraq — all of it feels like the fourth watch. It’s gone on too long. When will peace come? When will evil be conquered? When will God intervene?
Because the world is waiting for the fourth watch.
*The story relayed is from the Gospel of Matthew chapter 14. It was our Gospel reading this past week and I’ve been thinking about it ever since