Summary: Among the interpretation’s of Peter’s attempt to walk on water, one in particular is that he should have stayed with the boat, much like Christians should stay with other Christians and allow them to minister to one another.

Submitted by Dr. Bobby J. Touchton

Ashland, Kentucky

“Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’ Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God’” (NRSV).

ILLUSTRATION: ORDINARY PEOPLE is a book that was later made into a movie. It is set in Lake Forest, Illinois, during the 1970s. The action focuses on the Jarrett family--Calvin and Beth and their son Conrad. Before the action of the book begins, there was a second Jarrett son--Buck--who was killed in a boating accident. After the death of Buck, Conrad became deeply troubled, blaming himself. At the request of his father, Conrad begins to see a psychiatrist, Dr. Berger. He tells Berger that he wants him to help him gain more control over others so that he can make his father stop worrying about him. In Berger’s office, Conrad has a breakthrough and admits that he blames himself for the death of his brother Buck. But he did what you are suppose to do when your boat overturns. You stay with the boat. Berger tells him to stop blaming himself. He did what you were suppose to do. He stayed with the boat.

That’s the message I got from this scripture passage. Stay with the boat!

It is fascinating to realize the way many scriptural texts are open to different interpretations. Lots of stories have an elastic quality about them, allowing us to read them from a variety of viewpoints. We can look at a text from one angle and see one thing and quite another from a different angle.

This story in Matthew is a case in point. In this episode, Jesus dismissed the multitude he had just fed and then sent the disciples on ahead of him to the other side of the sea. Matthew tells us he took this course of action because he wanted some time alone to pray. Meanwhile, as his disciples sailed across the sea, a fierce storm blew up and battered their small ship. The wind was against them, and they were having great difficulty making any headway. Although they struggled mightily against the wind and the waves, Matthew doesn’t tell us that they were in any immediate danger. He leaves that to our imaginations. He does, however, say that Jesus responded to the disciples’ plight by coming to them between 3:00 and 6:00 in the morning, walking on the sea. At first they couldn’t believe their eyes, and they assumed the worst—it had to be some ghost or evil spirit coming toward them. They cried out in terror. To calm their fears, Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; don’t be afraid.”

Apparently, this wasn’t enough for Peter, so he responded, “Lord, if it really is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus gave Peter permission, and he climbed over the side of the boat, first testing the water to see if it would hold him up. When it did, he put his full weight on it, and lo and behold, he began to walk on the waves. Things went well for a few moments until Peter realized just what he was doing! He became aware of the wind and the waves and how tumultuous the sea really was. As a result, fear got the best of him and he began to sink. He cried out in desperation, “Lord, save me!” At once Jesus grabbed hold of him and lifted him out of the water. Together they made their way to the boat and climbed in.

Suddenly the storm dissipated, and the sea became calm. In response, the disciples turned their small boat into a sanctuary and began worshiping Jesus and testifying that he was indeed the Son of God. Although two of the other Gospels feature a version of this story, only Matthew tells us about Peter’s attempt to walk on the water. For that reason, we have often focused on Peter and his willingness to attempt the impossible and called attention to his impulsive courage. In that vein, he has been held up as an example of the importance of getting out of our comfort zones and taking some risks in faith.

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