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In the Bible, the Apostle Peter walked on water. Most people automatically connect that talent with Jesus Christ, but in the fourteenth chapter of Matthew, we read about how Jesus was out for a leisurely stroll on the Sea of Galilee, in a gale no less, and told Peter to walk out to him. No big deal. We read that Peter got out of the boat and started to walk on water toward The Lord. But then poor Peter falters. He takes his eyes off of Jesus and begins focusing on the wind, and the waves, and the fact that he is, oh… I don’t know, WALKING ON WATER! Fear and doubt overtake him and he begins to sink. He cries out to Jesus for help and The Lord reaches out and catches his hand. Poor Peter. He failed. He floundered. He almost fell flat.
They look at each other, Peter trying to catch his breath, blinking away the sea-spray, and Jesus patiently waiting for him to collect himself. With chaos all around them and a boat full of onlookers marveling in wonder from behind them, Jesus calmly leans in and says, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
What did Peter feel in that moment? Guilt? Shame? Relief he didn’t drown? Maybe gratitude for being saved? What we do know for sure is that he had just proved his lack of faith in God. He fell. Jesus had to lift him up. How embarrassing. And in front of his friends too.
I fear some of us may be missing an important point about this event. What I mean is there is more than one message to learn from this passage.
What does it mean to have faith? I guess that would be dependent on what you have faith in. For example, I had faith that the chair I’m sitting in would support my weight. I didn’t even think about it. I just sat down. No debate or fear. I had faith. It’s easy to have faith in things I can see. Things I can test. Things that can empirically prove to me over a protracted duration of trial and error that they won’t let me down.
What about things I can’t see? How about… air? I can’t see it (that’s not entirely true, high pressure system, Southern-California smog begs to differ). I can’t hold it in my hand. I can’t smell it (I refer back to my aside on smog). But I know it’s there. I trust it will keep me alive, nourish my tissues, and I can feel it caress my skin when the Santa Ana’s whip it out to sea. I believe in air.
Faith is typically defined as a complete trust or confidence in something or someone. Faith in love, humanity, in God. Faith in the hope that everything is going to work out. Faith in faith. Even atheists have faith. They have faith and believe that there is no God.
But I think that people paint Old Peter with a very broad stroke. What we are missing is that faith can ebb and flow. Faith can be dented, or hidden, or momentarily overshadowed by tragedy or trauma. We can get lost and take our eyes off the prize.
Peter took his eyes off of God and started focusing on the storm around him. He let the chaos he found himself in get in the way of his faith in the Lord, who happened to be standing directly in front of him. He was human, and like all of us flawed, weak, and afraid.
Yes Peter failed one test of faith, but what many miss is that moments prior he passed a test that I personally admire and hold in very high esteem.
He got out of the boat.
Peter got out of the boat. He did something that went against every rational impulse that a mortal, person governed by the laws of physics should have done.
He took his faith in God and put it into practical action, He had faith that God would support him on the water. He got out of the boat! That’s crazy when you really think about it.
We just accept it all because it’s in the Bible but really take a minute and think about it. You’re Peter. You’ve had a really long day. It was hot. Muggy. Dusty. You just received word that Jesus’s cousin John the Baptist was beheaded by Herod. Throngs of people from across Judea flocked to Jesus for healing and blessing and prayer and encouragement. You did your best to facilitate some type of order.
Crowd control was a lost cause. You were pushed, stepped on, shoved, bumped, complained to, and possibly yelled at. People get grumpy when they’re hungry. Later that evening you tell Jesus, “Hey Lord, it’s getting late and we’re kind of out in the middle of nowhere. We should probably send these people home to get a bite to eat and get some shuteye.” The Lord shakes His head and says (I’m paraphrasing), “No, we’ll feed them, bring me what we have.” You look around at the thousands of people and then down at the measly five loaves of bread and two scrawny fish you’ve managed to scrounge up. “Uhh, Lord. I think we may have a problem.” Jesus smiles a knowing smile and blesses the food, hands it to you and your companions and tells you to feed the crowd. The bread is never ending. It simply regenerates out of the basket as do the fish. You watch in amazement as a feast is seemingly created from nothing. Is there nothing this guy can’t do?
It’s night. Jesus tells you and the other disciples to go ahead of him on the boat and he’ll catch up. Catch up? Is he going to swim over? But you do as you’re told. As soon as you cast off the beach a storm picks up. Wind gusts whip up seven foot swells. Waves crash against the hull of your small fishing boat. Worry tugs at your heart. This is bad. Where is God when you need Him? Hours pass. Maybe you doze off, maybe not. Then someone sees a ghost. A cry goes out on the boat and everyone looks port. A hazy form looks to be approaching where you’re floating. Cries of fear escape your lips.
Then from the water you hear a familiar voice, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” It can’t be. Could it? Is that Jesus? Walking on the water? Am I hallucinating? Well, I have seen him do some pretty amazing things, you think to yourself. I have faith in him. I trust him. So when he tells you to get out of the boat and defy every natural, rational survival impulse you have… you do it.
Sometimes God asks us to do things that don’t make all that much sense to us at the time. Things that scare us. Things that push us out of our comfort zone. Things we could get ridiculed for, or looked down at for, or lose Earthly position or possessions for.
He asks us to do these things with no more than His word, and a promise that He is in control and has our best interests in mind.
Share the gospel with that stranger (What if they don’t listen?). Share the gospel with your family (What if they reject me?). Give your money to the poor (What if I don’t have enough left for me?). Volunteer, serve, and help (What if I don’t have the time or don’t get compensated?) Give that up (But I like it.) Stop spending time with them (But I’ll miss them.)
The point I’m trying to make is Peter deserves more credit for this story than he gets. God ultimately gets all the glory, but from a human standpoint wherein we can take a valuable lesson away from an event, I feel that taking that first step was courageous.
God calls us to step away from this world and into what He has planned for us. We will all falter. We will all fail. We will all constantly sin (unfortunately). Those facts are a given. What’s most important is that we stay faithful and step out in faith toward what God has called us to do.
Get out of the boat.
Nick Gerasimou is a father of two, author, blogger, and educator based out of South Orange County, Ca.