ADVENTURES IN WATER-WALKING WITH JESUS
I love this passage – Matthew 14:22-32. But I’m still not sure I understand what Peter had in mind (v.28).
It all happened one dark, windy night out in the middle of the Sea of Galilee. It’s typically called a “sea,” but really it’s a large, freshwater lake. Still, freshwater or salt, it really doesn’t matter. Neither one makes a good surface for a stroll, and that’s what Peter ended up doing.
Jesus with his disciples had been teaching a large crowd of folks along the shore of the lake. When he had finished, he put his disciples into a boat and told them to go across to the opposite shore. They assumed, I suppose, that he would hitch a ride with someone else later.
It seems to have been a tough night for crossing the lake. The disciples hit a stiff head wind and were having trouble getting across. The Sea of Galilee is about 13 miles long and about 8 miles wide. So, without a motor – and obviously, the disciples didn’t have a motor – crossing the lake would have taken a lot of work even in the best of circumstances.
And, as I say, these were not the best of circumstances. So, there the disciples were, several miles from shore, in the deep darkness of a blustery night, and out in the gloom they catch sight of a figure of a man walking. And, remember, there’s nothing there to walk on except the surface of the water. Now, there was no way for these men to understand what they were seeing except as something supernatural and terrifying. I can imagine that the disciples might have slunk down in the bottom of the boat in hushed horror, hoping that this eerie apparition might go on by and not notice them. They might have done that, but it seems they didn’t have nearly enough self-control to do that. No, according to Matthew, who was there in the boat himself, when the disciples caught sight of this figure of a man walking on the water near their boat, they got all stirred up (like the water around them) and started shouting and screaming in their terror.
Immediately, the “phantasm” calls out to them in a voice they immediately recognize, “Where’s your courage you ‘tough guys’? It’s me – Jesus!”
As the shouting died down to whimpers, Peter makes the statement that sort of baffles me. Peter says, “Okay, well, if it really is you, Jesus, invite me out to join you.” Now, why would Peter say something like that in this situation? How would the invitation to come out onto the water prove that this really is Jesus? Suppose it actually had been a ghost, as they feared at first. Might not a ghost also have invited Peter out of the boat, but with the intention of drowning him?
Ah, but maybe that’s just the point. It wasn’t the mere invitation that Peter was looking for. Maybe, Peter wasn’t simply asking Jesus to invite him out onto the water. Maybe, Peter was asking Jesus to prove his identity by also giving Peter the power to walk on water. Ghosts might be able to walk on water, but they don’t have the power to enable other people to walk on water. Jesus, on the other hand, miracle-working Jesus, he could make it possible for Peter to walk on water. “Prove that you really are Jesus,” Peter says, “by making me able to walk on the water, too.”
“No problem,” Jesus says. “Come on out.”
Here, faith and action meet for Peter. He climbs over the gunwale of the boat, puts his feet down on the water, and begins walking to Jesus. It looks like a triumphant ending. But Jesus wants Peter to be a partner in this adventure, not just a passive lump.
So, Jesus uses Peter’s faith as the conduit through which he empowers Peter. It is in the context of a relationship of trust that Jesus pours his power into Peter. As long as Peter leans on (trusts) Jesus, he is a partner in Jesus’ power.
But, then, Matthew tells us that Peter looked away from Jesus and focused on himself and his circumstances – he was just an ordinary guy, outside his boat, in the middle of a very big lake, in the midst of the wind and waves. He disconnected his trust from Jesus, leaned on his own abilities, and so he began to sink. Sad ending.
Where are you in this story? Can you see yourself in this event? Are you still in the boat, afraid to climb over the gunwale? Paralyzed by fear? Are you out of the boat but sinking into the water, because you “know” that it’s impossible for people to walk on water? Defeated by your doubts? Or are you striding across the water, focused on Jesus, a triumphant partner in the power of our Lord?
This is no time for fear. The Lord is here. It’s a time for adventure. Get out of the boat. Let’s go water-walking with Jesus!
“For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.” 2 Timothy 1:7 [HCSB]
©2013 Gary A. Chorpenning; all rights reserved.