Last night I was giving Clare (the baby) a bath. She loves bath time, especially kicking and splashing water everywhere. She is fascinated with the water. It’s interesting to observe how she is learning about water and how it is different than anything else she encounters. She will go from kicking and thrashing around to very still while she tries in vain to pick up the water. She stares intently at the surface of the water and slowly lowers her hand. She tries to keep it above the water and pick it up with her fingers. Fail. She tries to put her hand under the water and then pinch it between her fingers. Foiled again. Last night she kept looking up at me as if to say, “Come on Mom, help me out. What am I doing wrong?” She will, of course, eventually learn about how water works and that we can’t just pick it up like a ball, a crayon, or the rather noisy bunch of Legos she is currently banging together as I type this.
It’s funny how one thought, one image, can send your mind hurtling down a path of which you feel like you have no control and then pull you back to the present in a matter of seconds. That sensation is what happened to me while I was watching Clare try to understand how the surface of the water worked. While she explored this basic principle of life, my mind went whizzing through the story of Peter in the boat when Jesus walks on water. (Refresher: see Matthew 14:22-33).
He had just fed the crowd of 5 thousand with the 5 loaves and 2 fish. Jesus tells his disciples, “Go on ahead, I’ll finish saying good bye to the crowd and send them home. I’ll catch up” (Or something like that, I’m imagining and fleshing out some dialogue here and following:) Maybe the disciples were grateful, after all they must have had a long day passing out food and managing the crowd. Maybe some of them tried to stay with Jesus, insisting that he must be exhausted too and need not over exert himself. However it happened, the disciples were on the boat without Jesus. Matthew tells us that it was the 4th watch of the night, so very late at night or very early in the morning, depending on your view. The sun had probably not broken over the horizon, but dawn was not too far off. Enough light to see a shape coming toward the boat, even in the wind and waves.
Can you imagine the thoughts that went through the disciples’ minds? Scripture gives us one – a ghost. And what else could it be really? We all know that nothing can stand on liquid water. We know this fact so deeply it is not something we even ponder or debate. It seems our desire for survival forbids us from even testing the possibility. And yet, Jesus walked on water.
Even more shocking is what happens next. Peter, in all his brashness, in his forthright, confident, and somewhat naive manner, commands Jesus! Can you picture yourself as one of the other disciples, listening to Peter? Have you ever seen people take a step away from someone who has just said something outrageous, silly or wrong as if to say “I’m not actually with that person who just messed up over there, don’t look at me please.” I kind of imagine that’s what the other disciples did. “What did he say? You didn’t actually mean that Peter. Jesus, he really didn’t mean it. Please Jesus, ghost, or whatever you are, don’t make us walk on the water too!”
Jesus, in the rendition I currently have playing in my head, smiles and shakes his head at Peter. He acquiesces to Peter’s request and commands him to come out on the water. Incredibly, Peter does. Remember, he has just witnessed Jesus feeding that huge crowd with a small amount of food. It truly was a miracle of enormous proportions and must have been fresh in Peter’s head. His belief in Jesus and who he was had been steadily growing. Matthew’s Gospel details numerous healings and teachings. In another instance in a boat, Jesus calms a storm. The disciple’s reaction is to question among themselves who Jesus really was.
Peter must have made a decision. In this moment, he has made a choice. No longer uncertain of who Jesus is, Peter boldly steps out of the boat. He is leaving behind the known, the understood and the safe. He is choosing to walk toward Jesus, even though the way was unsettling, uneven, and most definitely not solid. But Peter has made a choice. He must have believed that Jesus was more than just a man. He was convinced of it, or he would not have left the boat.
Once Peter was actually out of the boat, in his shock and amazement, he looked down. He doubted and that is when he began to sink. But Jesus, of course, reaches out his hand and pulls Peter up. Once back in the boat, this time the disciples do not question and wonder about who Jesus is. In Matthew’s Gospel, this is the first time that the disciples articulate that Jesus is the Son of God. Peter’s faith was the turning point.
Faith is a turning point in our lives. What do we believe in? Just how much do we believe it? Are we willing to get out of our boats – our places of safety, comfort, the known – and explore the places faith is calling us to walk. They may be places of discomfort, of the unknown, of being uncertain or perhaps even a bit afraid. Faith pushes us, it stretches us, is demands much of us. But in return, faith in God rewards us, brings us joy and peace and never, not even once, leaves us.