I have been studying Matthew 14:22-36 lately. It is the story of Jesus walking on the water, and Peter jumping out of the boat. I have always loved this story, not just because of the obvious miracle of walking on water, but because I think it shows the frailty of his disciples. I can totally relate to them. If you don’t know the story it goes like this.
Jesus had had a long day. He had just come from his hometown where he was not received at all. He had gotten word that his cousin and friend John had just been beheaded. My guess is that his spirit was grieving, yet the people kept coming to hear his stories. They followed him everywhere. They did without sustenance in order to listen. He ministered to them until evening, when the disciples tried to send them away to get food. Jesus would not allow it because he saw they were hungry…spiritually hungry. Instead, he performed a miracle and multiplied the fishes and the loaves, so he could continue to feed their souls. Like I said, it was a busy day. I can imagine how badly he needed some “alone” time. In order to find some, he sent the disciples on ahead in the boat. I notice they didn’t hesitate. Never asked how he would get across, or when he would be with them again, at least not on the record. I bet they were beat too.
He climbed a mountain to be with God. Basically, he went camping. I so love him for that. I get it, because it is where I find God, too. After his hike, he soaked up the rest and the solitude. From on that mountain, he looked down on the lake that his friends were crossing. He saw the storm coming their way, from his vantage point. He saw their plight, and he moved to act. Right before dawn, he walks to meet his friends.
On. The. Water.
If that were not enough, it says the wind and waves were buffeting them. In case that term is unfamiliar to you it means, the action of striking someone or something repeatedly and violently. In other words, the storm was intense. If I were in that boat, in a storm, and I saw a man coming towards me walking on the water I would freak. No doubt. Trembling wouldn’t begin to describe my actions. I’d be screaming, and considering if I could swim to shore. These guys were cowering in fear. Jesus tells them, “It’s me! Don’t be afraid!” Haha. Right.
Only Peter sort of believes him, and says, “If it’s you Lord tell me to come to you.” Notice the if. Peter was willing, and you have to commend him on his belief that if it really is the Lord, he is willing to obey. Yet, at the same time, Peter tells Jesus what to tell him. “If it is you, tell me to come to you.” He doesn’t wait for the Lord to express his desires, which are to still the storm. He takes it upon himself to decide what God would want, which he thinks is for him to come out on the water. I can see Jesus with a smirk on his face and a twinkle in his eye as he gives the command, “Come!” It is like he says, ‘If that is what you want to do Peter, give it a try.’
Always the impulsive risk taker, Peter once again goes forward in boldness, but at least he asked permission this time. He steps out of that boat and he walks on the water. What an adrenaline rush that must have been…kind of like the old days version of skydiving or bungee jumping. He goes, but in short order he begins to look at what he has gotten himself into. Self- doubt rushes at him in the whipping of the wind. The waves remind him of his humanity. I wonder if he thought, “I should have stayed in the boat with the other guys. What have I done?” His act-now-think-later actions causing him to be in survival mode. He begins to sink. He cries out to be rescued. Jesus pulls him out.
It is the story I have heard since I was a child. We praise Peter for stepping out, we hope to have the kind of faith it takes to jump out of the boat. But there is this thing in my head that stops at the last part of the story where Jesus says, “Oh you of little faith, why did you doubt?” He is saying Peter had doubt. Hmmm…he doesn’t applaud the actions of Peter, but instead gives a bit of caution.
Because of this last statement, I interpret this passage a bit differently than I have heard it preached. I hear the voice of Peter’s friend, not with rebuking condemnation, but with a bit of mischief and maybe some sarcasm in his tone. Peter’s doubt was different than his companions, but it was still doubt. They were terrified from the get go. Never considered anything but fear. Peter, on the other hand, jumps out of the boat in what he thinks is a bold move that turns out to be not such a good idea. His doubt was not in looking at the waves, it was in questioning the ability of Christ to come to him. He felt it was up to him to do the work of getting to Christ, when in reality if he had waited, Jesus was coming to him. Jesus saw the need and was coming to meet it. So the question was more like, why did you doubt ME? Why did you question if I would come to you in the midst of the storm? I can so relate to Peter in this. I have jumped out of the boat. I have made my first steps, but now the storm is buffeting me. My eyes are on the waves that threaten to overtake me, and instead of trusting that my rescuer is coming to me, I am trying desperately to get to him. He is asking me, ‘Do you have so little faith that I will come to you?’
You may not have resigned your job, or had your last paycheck, but I bet there is an area in your life where the boat is rocking. It seems most of my friends lately have one thing or another going on in their lives where the storm is intense. The waves are huge. The wind is whipping. There is trembling. Fear has stolen our security. The storm’s job is to reveal where our security lies…in our own abilities, in our boats, or in the climate that used to be so unchanging but now is shifting like sand. Even the security in our faith is questionable as we franticly strive, while we are sinking. Working for reward. This favored story has taken on new meaning for me. In watching the weaknesses of the inner circle of Christ, I have seen myself. I have recognized my need to wait on him to come to me, instead of preforming to get to him. In reality, he is longing to still my storm, if I will stop interrupting him with my “great acts of faith,” which is all he wanted from the beginning.