Scripture: Matthew 14:22-33
I do not really know why, but it seems that we as humans love the water. Usually the number one reason why we cannot wait for summer is because it means we can either get into the pool, go out on the lake, take the kayak down the river, or just sit at the beach. Even when we cannot get to a body of water, we still try to find ways to get wet, as the popularity of splash pads show. It seems like most people have an instinctive love for being on or in the water. Water is something we are fascinated by, but it is also something we should be respectful of because water can be dangerous. This is one of the reasons why we build boats after all. Boats allow us to venture into deeper water safely, and several years ago I learned the value of staying in the boat. It was the final day of a youth mission trip. We had spent the week in the Appalachian region of Kentucky helping with roofing houses and building accessibility ramps. Before we left to come home though, the plan was to spend the morning and early afternoon white water rafting on a local river. When we got to the rafting place, the owner/operator pulled me aside and explained the situation. The stretch of river we were on normally had class 2 to 3 rapids. However, the water was up and the rapids were class 3s to one strong class 4. For reference, the scale ends at 5. He asked me if we still wanted to proceed. I had a group of teens and adventurous adults who had waited all week for this moment, so of course I said yes. After we got through the first strong class three rapid with two boats flipped over, I began to wonder if this was a mistake. Then, about half way through the trip the raft I was in was navigating around a rock. I went to paddle at the same time that a bump pushed the boat up. I was expecting to meet the resistance of the water, instead the paddle hit nothing and I was off the balance so that the next bump put me straight into the water. Luckily, we had to wear helmets because mine had a freshly made new scratch in it as I was pushed over a rock. Fortunately, the guide of my raft was very skilled, and he managed to pull the thing around and pull me out of the water very quickly. I had a life vest on and there were plenty of people who knew what they were doing so I was never in huge danger. Yet, that unexpected plunge game me a new appreciation for the power and potential danger of water.
I tell this story because my experience in some small way helps me appreciate what Peter might have been experiencing in this morning’s scripture, because water can be scary. This story is often taught to Peter’s detriment. One of the common takeaways from this story that Peter only began to sink when he took his eyes off Jesus. While technically that is true, when we make that the emphasis we put the focus on what Peter did wrong instead of celebrating what he did right. This morning’s scripture is perhaps one of the best known stories of Jesus, even people who are not particularly religious have familiarity with the idea that Jesus walked on water. Yet, Jesus is not the only one in this morning’s scripture that accomplished that miracle. What we take away from this morning’s scripture should not be about what Peter did wrong, it should be about what he did right because it is a reminder that we too have the capacity to do impossible things.
I think this morning’s scripture is one where it benefits us to read it in a way where we try to really step into the story, and we try to understand things form the disciples point of view, because by the time Jesus comes strolling up walking on water they had already had a bit of a whirlwind of a day. The gospels of Mark, Matthew, and John all record these events but emphasize different details. The morning started with Jesus telling the disciples that they needed to get away for a bit and they set off to a more isolated place around the lake, and as buzz about Jesus spread around the villages and towns that dotted the lakeshore they discovered a crowd waiting for them. This incident led to one of Jesus’ other well-known miracles, the feeding of the five thousand where five loaves and two fish manage to feed everyone. At this point the sun was probably getting low in the sky, and the disciples had already had a long day.
However, there day was not done. The gospel of John records that after Jesus performed the miracle of fishes and loaves the crowd got a little rowdy and wanted to make Jesus a king. This morning’s scripture starts with “Immediately Jesus made the disciples get in the boat and go on ahead.” In the Greek the word translated “made” has the connotation of “to compel”. We get the sense that Jesus saw where this thing was going and so he wrapped it up before it got out of hand. So the disciples were in the boat, out in the lake, crossing over to the other side but it was not going well. The wind was against them, so they were putting in a lot of effort to go nowhere fast. The scripture specifies that Jesus came walking on water during the “fourth watch” which would be between 3 am- and 6 am. You can do the math. The disciples had been struggling in the boat with uncooperative weather for at least six hours and likely several more than that. This was on top of an already long and somewhat emotional day. Even though the Sea of Galilee is a fresh water lake, the attitude in that boat was probably a little salty. The disciples would have been tired, they would have been cold, and they were would have been wetter than they wanted to be. It was likely a boat full of twelve grumpy men. This is the scene when Jesus appeared walking on water. This is the mindset Peter was in when Jesus told him to “come” and Peter actually got out of a boat and did that.
Again, I do not think we give Peter enough credit here. Remember, there were eleven other followers of Jesus in that boat, but only Peter took a step out. He did that despite having a really long day, despite being tired, and despite not being his best. Given that I think we have to acknowledge just how big of a step this was for Peter. Also remember, Peter was a fisherman. He had grown up on the lake. He had seen his share of rough storm, and he may even have known someone who suffered a mishap on the water. He would have known and appreciated the danger the water posed. He would have known how much safer the boat was, but despite that he took a step out into the water anyway, because Jesus had told him, “come.”
Even though Peter was worn out and common sense was telling him to stay in the boat, he still attempted to step closer to Jesus, and I think there is a lesson there for us. We may not find ourselves in a boat looking out at Jesus walking on water, but we will often find ourselves in a situation where we are tired, where we are grumpy, and where we would rather stay right where we are. It is often in those times in our lives where, if we are listening, we can Jesus saying “come.” Just like Peter, we can be invited by our Lord and Savior to take a step into the unknown, to be more like him, and to do the impossible. However, unlike Peter we may not be as willing to take that step.
At the point Jesus showed up Peter and the rest of the disciples had been going through a rough few hours after an exhausting day. In the same, we all have bad days. Sometimes we have several of them in a row. When it has not been our day, our week, our month, or even our year then we tend to be more likely to ignore the voice of Jesus telling us to “come.” We tend to tell ourselves that we will do the thing that is on our hearts, we will take the step in faith, we will be more serious about following Jesus, when things calm down. Friends, I know most of you have lived enough life to know that is not how life works. Yes, whatever our current struggle is might pass, whatever our current major worry is might be resolved, but that does not mean things are going to calm down. It seems that something else, some other struggle, some other unexpected event, will come along. Life can be beautiful and joyful but it is also unpredictable and more chaotic than we want. If we decide that we are going to wait until the seas are calm, the wind isn’t blowing, and there isn’t a cloud in the sky before we take a step out closer to water then we are never, ever getting out of the boat. If we truly want to follow Jesus then at some point we have to walk where Jesus is walking, we have to move with purpose when Jesus says come, and we have to get out of the boat-even if we are tired, even if we are grumpy, and even if the conditions are a little choppy.
This is what Peter does in this morning’s scripture, and he does the impossible. He does what Jesus is doing, Peter walks on water. At least to start. He does eventually sink and we get a glimpse to why he sinks in verse 31: “Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith, he said, ‘Why did you doubt?” My immediate question to this verse is what did peter doubt? More than once I have asked this question in a youth group or in a young person Sunday school class, and inevitably the immediate response is “Jesus”. That is not a surprise because often the take away of this story is Peter took his eyes of Jesus, and that is why he began to sink. However, I am not convinced that Jesus is the right answer to the question what did Peter doubt. He was not doubting Jesus. As soon as he started to sink, he cries out Lord save me! Peter had full confidence and faith in Jesus. Who Peter doubted was himself. The wind and the waves were a reminder that he was doing something that he never thought possible, and that led him to doubt that he was truly capable of what he was already doing. Peter doubted that he could be like Jesus. He doubted that he could do what Jesus was doing, that is why he began to sink.
What sticks out to me is even though Peter doubted he could be like Jesus, Jesus did not. Jesus told Peter to come because he knew that Peter could do it. He knew that Peter could do what he was doing. In the same way, Jesus know we can do it too. Whatever we are called to do, we can do. So that passion to change the world, the way that you just know you could make a real difference, the step of faith that you have been holding yourself back from taking- why do you doubt? Because our savior does not. God does not call us to something as a test. We do not take holy risks because it is sink or swim, because Jesus already knows that we can walk. We can be like him, through Christ who strengthens us we can do all things, and through him we can transform this world.
My favorite part of this well-known scripture though is the end. Verse 32 states “And when they climbed back into the boat the wind died down.” Now verse 29 states that Peter walked out towards Jesus. This means, to climb back into the boat he had to walk back to the boat. Peter did start to sink, but Jesus helped him back onto the water and then they walked back together. This is an encouraging thought, because it means that when we sink, when we fall short, when we doubt ourselves, and when we miss then mark then Jesus will be right there for us. Peter may have doubted that he was capable of doing what Jesus asked him to do, but Jesus did not let him sink and flounder. Jesus picked him up and walked with him through the wind and the waves. In the same way, we can count on him to be there for us, and that is a promise that we can stand (and walk) on.
In some way God is calling each of us. For each of us there is some way that we can further God’s kingdom. There is a disciple we can help make or nurture. There is a way that we can be used to transform the world. Friends, don’t doubt that. You are capable of more than you think is possible. You can be like Jesus. Sure, we all have reasons why we might doubt that, but do not let those doubts pull you down. Jesus is saying come, so may we go. How is God calling you? What is God asking you to do? Today, may you find out. May you get out of the boat, and may you get your feet wet.