Summary: The Power of Faith
Dear Brothers & Sisters in Christ Jesus,
I read quite recently that someone has purchased the right to allow tourists to walk on the Sea of Galilee. No, they have not also purchased the rights to the law of gravity. Instead, what they intend to do is build a plexiglass walkway hundreds of feet out into the Sea of Galilee exactly at water level. To onlookers, the person will appear to be walking on water. And even for the person themselves, I assume that the plexiglass will allow them to look down and look through it, allowing them to feel as though they are walking on water.
I don’t know how much it will cost tourists for this privilege, but I suspect that the market will bear a fairly high price for it. I’m sure that tour operators will start including it in their brochures. “Day 5: See the site of the Sermon on the Mount. Visit Capernaum. Walk on water at the Sea of Galilee.” There will be many people who will want to do what Peter did, many people who will want to “walk on water.”
Today, then I offer you an incredible bargain! I am going to save you hundreds of dollars! Forget the passport, forget the airfare, forget the 5 or 10 or 20 shekels that it will probably cost to get on the plexiglass. Today I’ll teach you how to walk on water--for free. Yes, you can walk on water! You can do so by imitating the boldness of Peter, by learning from his weakness, and by relying on Peter’s Savior.
The details of the story are fairly few, and they are fairly familiar. Jesus had just finished feeding 5000 men--plus women and children. Far from having the intended result--that the miracle would back up the message he had been preaching--the people instead wanted to make Jesus their earthly king.
Jesus dealt with this problem in two ways. First, he makes his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him. By doing so, they would be removed from temptation to join in and buy into the idea of Jesus as an earthly king.
Secondly, he goes up on a mountainside by himself to pray. As a human, the idea of being a king would have been a temptation for Jesus. In fact, Satan himself had used a very similar temptation when he offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world in exchange for worshiping him. Therefore Jesus spent some time alone with his Father, probably praying for strength for himself--and also that the Holy Spirit strengthen faith in the disciples and create faith in the crowds who had seen the miracles but not really heard the message.
But St Matthew tells us, “during the fourth watch of the night” (sometime after 3 AM) that Jesus went out on the water to them. It was dark out, the sea was choppy, the disciples’ nerves were all probably a little frayed from battling the storm all night, and so when they saw Jesus, they thought they were seeing a ghost. Popular Jewish superstition held that the appearance of spirits during the night brought disaster--very possibly death. While the disciples had faith in Jesus, they weren’t immune from the superstitions they grew up with and so they cry out in fear.
But notice how Jesus deals with his superstitious disciples. A few chapters earlier Matthew notes that Jesus had fulfilled an Old Testament prophecy in which Isaiah said, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.” In other words, those who are the weakest, those who are in the greatest need of assistance and comfort--those are the ones to whom Jesus will especially reach out.
We see him doing that here with this boatful of bruised reeds and smoldering wicks. He doesn’t say to them, “Are you still so dense after having seen me feed all those people? Even supposing that I were a ghost, do you really think that you would have anything to fear? If I have power to feed 5000, do I not also have power to protect you from one or two or a hundred ghosts? When will you ever learn?!?”
No, rather he calms their fear by saying, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” And the disciples certainly “take courage.” In fact, Peter “takes courage” to the point where he is willing to do something seemingly foolish. He was willing to jump out of the boat and walk on water if Jesus asked him to. We read: “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat...”
I think sometimes Peter has gotten an unfair shake in the retelling of this story. When you have thought of this story, have you thought of Peter’s faith or of Peter’s lack of faith? But we read, “Then Peter got down out of the boat.”