There are precursors of this story in the Old Testament.
107:23 They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters;
107:24 These see the works of the LORD, and his wonders in the deep.
107:25 For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof.
107:26 They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths: their soul is melted because of trouble.
107:27 They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wit’s end.
107:28 Then they cry unto the LORD in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses.
107:29 He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still.
107:30 Then are they glad because they be quiet; so he bringeth them unto their desired haven.
The Psalmist has invited a literal as well as a psychological understanding of the scene; it’s one of the many times in the psalm where terrible things happen, and they cry unto the Lord, and things work out. This is certaily worth comparing with the story in John.
And then Crystal has already referred us to Job’s great verse:
Job 9:8: God “treads upon the crests of the sea.”
When Jesus chose to walk on the water at that moment, I can imagine that he was thoroughly familiar with both of those O.T. passages.
It’s certainly worth while to look at the synoptic versions of the story. As Marjorie indicated Luke has Jesus in the boat, the storm terrifies the disciples until they awaken Jesus.
Mark (ch 4) gives a similar account.
In Matthew (ch 8) the waves have covered the boat, they awaken Jesus, he upbraids them for their little faith, and quiets the waves. But the passage that most closely resembles John’s (ch 14) has Jesus walking on the water. (They thought it was a spirit, but aren’t we all spirits; presumably a spirit would have no problem walking on the water.)
Intrepid, impulsive Peter asks for and receives permission to walk to him. Permission granted, and Peter walks– until his fears get the best of him and he sinks (certainly a parable of my life).
All of these stories represent an effort of Jesus to raise the consciousness (faith) of his slow disciples (there and here).
John Sanford is an episcopal priest/Jungian analyst. He wrote
“Mystical Christianity – A Psychological Commentary on the Gospel of John (1993). In his treatment of the dark sea journey he included a discussion of scholars who “appear to be bothered by the irrational” and literalists, who “sacrifice intellectual scrutiny….that aborts the possibility of seeing more deeply into the meaning of Scripture.” (That seems to be a hot topic among our group.) Sanford preferred what he called the ‘symbolic’ approach.
That judgment in fact seemed to be at the center of his discussion of the passage. He called it a numinous experience and a necessity for the development of a spiritual consciousness, as well as for psychological healing, but avoided and resisted by conventional practioners of both disciplines.