Jesus Walks on Water; Peter begins to Sink
The gospel story we have just heard is a strange and in many ways challenging story. The challenge for us, just as with last week's story of The Feeding of the Five Thousand, is to take the story out of the bible so that it becomes relevant to us in the here and now.
In the story we hear that a group of disciples, one of whom is the Apostle Peter, are out in a boat, probably a fishing boat, when a storm gathers and they become highly fearful. But, in some ways their fear is ever so slightly irrational. Yes, of course it is perfectly normal that they should have experienced a sense of fear, but what we must also remember is that those in the boat were highly skilled and trained fishermen. They would have been used to stormy weather when out at sea.
So here is the point. Often, frequently we too find ourselves all at sea. As the theologian Tom Wright puts it: ‘We too in our world have discovered so much, learned so much, invented so much, and yet, are still without power to do so many of the things that really matter. We have invented wonderful machines for making war, but no-one has found one that will make peace. We can put a man on the moon, but we can’t put food into hungry stomachs. We can listen to the songs of the whales sing on the ocean floor, but we can’t hear the crying of human souls in the next street.’
Just as with the fishermen-disciples sometimes, it seems, our competence simply isn’t enough. Sometimes even though we have all the necessary skills, talents, resources and training we too can feel all at sea. Sometimes we can experience a Peter-like crisis of confidence in our own ability. Sometimes like Peter our faith can waver.
So what can we do, what should we do, when our faith wavers, when we experience that sinking feeling, when despair and doubt seem to have the upper hand? The answer is given in the story: we can stretch out our hand and say with Peter ‘Lord save me.’
As Christians the challenge is to develop the sort of habits that keep us focused and strengthen our faith; regular daily prayer, reading scripture, participating in the sacraments. Like Peter we need to learn the art of keeping our eyes focused on Jesus. Faith is not just a noun you see, it's also a practice, a habit, a verb.
As Tom Wright concludes: ‘If like Peter we look at the waves being lashed by the wind, we will conclude that it (faith/life) is indeed impossible. What we are called to do – it’s so basic and obvious, but so hard to do in practice – is to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, and our ears open for his encouragement. And our wills and hearts must be ready to do what he says, even if it seems crazy at the time.’
The whole point of this story is that through actively keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus our faith grows and we no longer have to rely only on ourselves and our own competencies which are bound to let us down from time to time.
Through fixating on and being fascinated by Jesus as we become the sort of people who become attuned to the real needs of the world and become agents of God’s love, mercy, and grace and that at the end of the day is the rationale for the active Christian life. Amen.
Rev. Andrew Lightbown