When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.
“Do not be afraid” is a recurring theme in each of the gospels. There is good reason for the phrase to be used here. For these disciples the sea was a chaotic and frightening place within which all manner of beasts and monsters lived. To see a man walking on the sea was unnatural and unprecedented. Who was this? A ghost? A sorcerer? Nothing good could come from this! Then Jesus speaks “It is I; do not be afraid.”
“It is I” echoes the language of “I am”, This is the way in which God self identifies to Moses from within the burning bush and in God’s revelation in Isaiah 43. It’s a way of explaining to the frightened disciples, and to address the uncertainty of the first believers and readers of this work that Jesus’s presence is the work of God. His presence in feeding thousands of people from a few scraps. His presence in conquering the fearsome sea.
We can hear again that God is present with us and sustaining us through Christ in the midst of our fear.