This past week Nicky, Oonagh, and I took a few days and snuck away to New Hampshire for a little Rest and Rehabilitation. It was great to be away and near the water. I grew up near the water, and I genuinely miss it. I miss the smell of the ocean air and walk one block over and see the waves crash on the shore during a storm.
I woke early in the morning, made coffee, and went outside the room and just sat and watched the lake. Nothing unusual was happening, and I missed the sunrise, but the water was so calm and peaceful as compared to the world whirling behind me.
Let’s face it the last few months have been crazy, and they do not seem to be getting any better. Recently someone said that things were getting better, but I think we are just getting used to this new reality. I refuse to call it the “new normal” because there is nothing normal about what is going on in the world. I needed to sit for an hour or so and watch the water.
Water plays a central role in Scripture. In the beginning, the earth was covered with it; God sent rain to rid the world of humanity, except for Noah and his family. The first miracle of Jesus was to turn water into wine at a wedding feast and, Jesus was baptized by John in Jordan to begin his earthly ministry. Most of the Apostles were fishermen, and the Gospel stories took place around water.
In this Gospel passage from Matthew that we just heard, Jesus uses water as a central figure in the story. This, by the way, is one of my favorite passages, but I am taking a different look at it this time around. I usually talk about Peter and the faith and strength he had to step out of that boat. It must have taken all he had to lift his legs over the side and stand up and walk.
As interesting as that part of the story is, there is another perspective that often gets overlooked, and that is what Jesus does for Peter. So, lets back up a little……
Jesus had just finished a church service; coffee hour was over, and he was ready to go home and put his feet up. He sent the Apostles on ahead of him in a boat “to the other side,” and he went up the mountain to pray. Jesus, like most ministers, needs a little time alone after a church service to pray and recharge our batteries. Back in the pre-COVID days, I used to call this the PLN, Post Liturgical Nap. But I digress.
Scripture tells us that the boat was a considerable distance away and being buffeted by the waves. The sun had set, and the Apostles were sleeping as the boat made its way across. As the sun was rising, the Apostles, still asleep and just waking, looked out and saw Jesus coming to them walking on water. Now I can only imagine what they were thinking, just coming too from sleep and maybe they were seeing things, but no, it was Jesus.
Someone screamed out, “it’s a ghost,” but Jesus told them to take courage; it was really him, and all would be well. This would not be the last time Jesus tells his Apostles to relax. Now Peter being Peter stands up and says, “Lord, if it is, you tell me to come to you on the water.” Jesus was like, alright, come on.
So, Peter does his thing, starts walking, starts sinking. Now, this is where the camera angle changes, and the movie is now being shot over the shoulder of Jesus. Jesus reaches out his hand and lifts Peter out of the water and back to safety. Standing there, Jesus asks Peter why he had such little faith, and why did he doubt that he could walk on water. Jesus takes Peter back to the boat, they both climb in, the wind stops, and they have a worship service.
Now, notice a few things here. Jesus grants Peter’s request. Peter asked to come to Jesus, and the water and Jesus says okay. Peter starts to walk; his faith is strong, then he notices the world around him, and he begins to sink. He cries out for Jesus to save him, and Jesus once again grants his request. Jesus asks Peter about his lack of faith and his doubts, but he does it privately and not in front of the others. Jesus, standing there, holding Peter comforts him, he does not make fun of his or deride him; he has a private conversation with him.
When they get back in the boat, no one mentions what happened, including Jesus and Peter, and we never hear of this story again. Scripture says the wind was calm, and they had a worship service.
So, what is the point of the story?
Jesus comes to us in good times and bad; in fact, he never leaves us. Peter had the boldness of faith and took on a mission but then noticed the world around him, and he started to falter. Peter asked Jesus for help, and Jesus took him by the hand and led him back to safety. Jesus did not make fun of Peter or use his lack of faith as a moment to teach the others. He had a quiet word with Peter, and then they worshipped together and never spoke of it again.
When we are amid the wind and the rain when life is crashing over the sides of our boat or mission is starting to falter, ask Jesus for help and he will come and help you. Maybe, like Peter, he will lift you out of the water and bring you back to safety. Perhaps he will give you the strength to go on another day.
It is easy to lose faith these days. It is easy to see the waves crashing and start to sink into the sea of despair. The message of today’s Gospel is that it’s okay because Jesus is there to lift us up and bring us back to safety. Amen.