Five thousand people had been fed; the disciples were in the boat, rowing across the lake, while Jesus had remained behind to pray. It was hard work, rowing; they were going against the wind, and having to battle that and the waves. At this point, the disciples see someone moving across the water. Scared, they cry out: it can only be a ghost, if it’s moving on top of the waves, can’t it? Jesus perceives their fear, and tells them not to be afraid, for it is him. Peter, ever one to throw himself into a situation, says to Jesus, ‘if it’s you, ask me to come to you on the water’. ‘Come’ is Jesus’ reply. So, Peter climbs out of the boat, and starts to walk to Jesus on top of the water. It must have been an amazing moment. But Peter is distracted by the waves, and starts to feel frightened; scared, he begins to sink, and cries out to Jesus to save him. Immediately, Jesus reaches out his hand, holds Peter and comments on his little faith – ‘why did you doubt?’. As they clamber into the boat, the disciples fall to their knees, saying ‘Truly you are the Son of God’. (see Matthew 14:22-33)
Sometime later, Jesus again draws apart. This time, he takes Peter, James and John with him up a mountain. As he prays, he is transfigured, his face shining, and his clothes becoming dazzling white; Moses and Elijah appear with him. Peter, yet again the one to throw himself in, announces that it is good that they are there. If Jesus wishes, they will put up three shelters, one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah. At this, a cloud envelopes them all, and a voice speaks, saying ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased. Listen to him’. (see Matthew 17:1-8, and parallels in Mark and Luke).
Now none of us are likely to be called to walk on water, and I would not recommend it as a way of proving your faith in God; it’s likely to end up in your getting very wet. Neither is there anything wrong with a faith that includes some doubting; indeed, doubts and exploring those doubts can be part of a healthy faith, and can lead to deeper insights, as it did with ‘doubting’ Thomas (see John 20:24-29). Peter’s issue is that he loses his focus on Jesus; when he was looking towards Jesus, walking towards him, he was fine. Once he realised how strong the waves were, he got scared, and began to sink. How often do we start to sink, simply because we are scared? I suspect most of us have done this regularly, and will continue to do so. It is part of human life. Yet, still, we can learn from these times, and from others when we have kept our focus, to keep our faith more centred; not to stop feeling scared, necessarily, but maybe, at the very least, to know that Jesus is greater than our fear, and can help us not to be overwhelmed by the waves. Although, again, not to feel guilty when we are; guilt will not help, and we are none of us following our faith perfectly (that’s the whole point of it!).
Nevertheless, do we truly know who it is that we are following? Do we realise that this Jesus is the Son of God? Do we really truly realise that at the heart of our being? Do we realise that he does have power over the wind and the waves? That whatever ‘winds’ may be buffeting us, and whatever ‘waves’ threaten to overwhelm us, Jesus will be there with us, holding us – however little it may feel like he is? And how far does that realisation, that knowledge – that the one we follow is God’s beloved Son – affect how we live our lives? Does it affect it at all? Do we see Jesus, God’s beloved Son, and do we listen to him? And, if so, how do we listen to him?
Do we listen beyond/in the knowledge of our own cultural mindsets? With the knowledge that our culture affects the way we listen and hear God’s Son; not necessarily for better or worse, but just aware that it does? Are we even aware of our own cultural mindset – both that of our wider culture, and that of the church culture we may inhabit? Do we listen with the knowledge that we might be wrong? Not in a shameful way, but knowing that even our most cherished opinions might not be that of God? Do we listen, knowing that God is greater than us, beyond our understanding? Or do we listen in the, hopefully unconscious, certainty that God agrees with us? do we create the space in our lives to listen to God, and to hear God’s word? Or, like Peter, are we so busy jumping in, that we cannot hear what the still, small voice might be asking of us? in our listening, are we prepared to acknowledge our doubts and fears, to let God into them, and let God draw us closer through them? Do we hear what God is saying, or do we allow cynicism and negativity to blunt our listening and limit our faith? Do we give room for gratitude and thanksgiving, that might counter that cynicism, and give space for God to work? If we are called to come to Jesus across whatever metaphorical waters we may be asked to walk over, do we respond? Can we focus on Jesus as we do so? and if we happen to start sinking, will we call out to Jesus for help?