In the gospel appointed for Sunday, the disciples find themselves caught in a storm. Battered by the waves with the wind against them, Jesus arrives walking on the water. The gospel tells us they were terrified, and they cried out in fear. But Jesus says to them, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter courageously steps out of the boat and onto the water. At first, Peter walks on the water towards Jesus, but when he becomes frightened by the waves he begins to sink and cries out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reaches out his hand and catches him, saying, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
I have read many explanations of this story, most of which have focused on Peter’s lack of faith. But from my reading of the text, I’m not certain if Peter’s lack of faith stems from his fear of the waves or from his certainty that he could walk on water too.
Dr. Mark Vitalis Hoffman, professor of Biblical Studies at United Lutheran Seminary, argues that this story might be trying to demonstrate Peter’s overconfidence, his lack of faith in Jesus, who alone can walk on water and calm the seas.
I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a much more reasonable invitation. Quite honestly, I don’t want to walk on water. I’d rather trust the One who can.
There are storms all around us. Rising Coronavirus deaths, political turmoil, and a nation coming to terms with the evils of racism. Many of our friends and neighbors are overwhelmed. Some are facing the loss of a job or the death of a loved one. Others are behind on their bills and uncertain of the future.
Perhaps, Jesus is inviting us to embrace our helplessness in this moment, to trust that he alone can calm the storm around us. Perhaps, Jesus is reminding us that no matter what happens in the world or in our own lives, we belong to him. As St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, “So, then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s possession.”
We don’t need to walk on water or beat ourselves up when we get overwhelmed by the waves around us, because even if we look away for a moment Jesus will catch us, especially when we’re sinking.
So, stay in the boat. You don’t have to walk on water. Trust the One who can. Do not be afraid.
The Reverend Jacob E. Pierce, Rector