As long as we focus on the Lord, we are able to live in accord with our faith, even when we are in the depths of troubles.
Lord, save me! We can hear Peter’s desperation in these words. Maybe even a little of his own disappointment in himself. This is one of the most powerful stories in the Gospels. It has always captured my imagination and filled me with wonder. After all, the things that are happening here are beyond the natural law. They are beyond our experience. What is going on here?
Jesus had sent the disciples ahead in a boat. He had been up on the mountain praying deep into the night. Meanwhile those in the boat were already miles off shore and were experiencing some difficulty as the waves were up and the wind was against them. Sometime during the fourth watch of the night, between 3 A.M and 6 A.M. they see something shocking, someone is walking casually over the rough seas toward them. Quite naturally, they cry out in fear, thinking they are seeing a ghost. Jesus responds to their fear telling them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” (verse 27) Peter shouts into the wind, across the tossing waves, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” (verse 29) and hears Jesus say, “Come.” Then, to everyone’s surprise, “Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.”
I can imagine that the others in the boat were as stunned at this action as we are in reading it. Knowing who Jesus is, we can imagine him having the power to walk on water. But Peter? After all, with God all things are possible. But we see in this passage that Peter’s faith in Jesus is strong enough that he actually begins walking on the water toward Jesus. Now that is amazing!
There are a couple of things to pay attention to here in a very practical sense, it seems. We are given a hint in the lines that are the cause of our reflection for today: “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, beginning to sink, [he] cried out, ‘Lord, save me!” (Verses 29-30) Peter believes as long as he keeps his eyes on Jesus, as long as his entire focus is on the Lord. Because of this he is actually able to walk on the churning waters toward Jesus. But, like us, it is difficult for him to remain so focused. He takes his eyes off of Jesus, just for a split second, and becomes aware of the wind pulling at his clothes and buffeting his face, and he begins to sink. Is it not so with us as well? As long as we focus on the Lord, we are able to live in accord with our faith, even when we are in the depths of troubles. It is when we take our eyes off of Jesus, and see only the troubles we are in, that we begin to falter and to sink. We need to keep Christ at the center of all that we do. In all things, we need to keep our eyes on Jesus. It is when we keep our eyes on Jesus that we are able to live in accord with his commandment of love. It is in this that we are able to, in his name, work miracles with our labors on behalf of those in need.
Like Peter, we are all too human. We see Peter briefly walking on the water here in this passage. It is only two chapters later in Matthew that we see Peter recognizing that Jesus is the messiah, the Son of the living God before anybody else has come to this conclusion. (Mt. 16:16) These acts show the depth of Peter’s faith in Jesus, but in both cases, he stumbles almost immediately after each of these moments. We see him suddenly doubting and and crying out to the Lord to save him here in today’s passage. In the latter case, just a few lines after Jesus has praised him for seeing the truth of who he is, he is remonstrated by Jesus with, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (Mt. 16:23) Is this not our story too. Yes, we believe, but we are human, still not perfected in our faith. We are not God. But God is perfect and, in every case, in his perfect love for us, he will pull us up, like he did Peter, when we begin to sink and cry out to him, “Lord, save me!” He will also love us enough to correct us when we get a bit “too big for our britches” as he did with Peter in the latter case.
Jesus, we believe that you are the messiah, the Son of the living God. Yes, we believe, but we ask you also to help our unbelief. Reach out to us and lift us up from our doubts. Help us to believe in you more each day. Make of us your good and true disciples. We pray these things believing in the power of your name Jesus. Amen!
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