Matthew 14:22-33 (MSG)
Walking on the Water
22-23 As soon as the meal was finished, he insisted that the disciples get in the boat and go on ahead to the other side while he dismissed the people. With the crowd dispersed, he climbed the mountain so he could be by himself and pray. He stayed there alone, late into the night.
24-26 Meanwhile, the boat was far out to sea when the wind came up against them and they were battered by the waves. At about four o’clock in the morning, Jesus came toward them walking on the water. They were scared out of their wits. “A ghost!” they said, crying out in terror.
27 But Jesus was quick to comfort them. “Courage, it’s me. Don’t be afraid.”
28 Peter, suddenly bold, said, “Master, if it’s really you, call me to come to you on the water.”
29-30 He said, “Come ahead.”
Jumping out of the boat, Peter walked on the water to Jesus. But when he looked down at the waves churning beneath his feet, he lost his nerve and started to sink. He cried, “Master, save me!”
31 Jesus didn’t hesitate. He reached down and grabbed his hand. Then he said, “Faint-heart, what got into you?”
32-33 The two of them climbed into the boat, and the wind died down. The disciples in the boat, having watched the whole thing, worshiped Jesus, saying, “This is it! You are God’s Son for sure!”
Recently I’ve spent a lot of time swimming in the sea. For two weeks of this summer I lived in Greystones as a volunteer at CSSM or the Children’s Special Service Mission. I don’t like swimming in the sea… Or at least I didn’t. It’s a cold, miserable experience filled with seaweed and the constant fear of being washed away by walls of water that seems quite apathetic to the fact that I swim like a 6-month old chihuahua. Yet I steeled myself to the depths because once you get used to it, it’s quite exhilarating. Terrifying, yet breathtakingly exciting.
This learned excitement gave me a much greater perspective for the wonder of Jesus’ steps upon the waves. At 4 AM amid the pitch black mountains of a rolling sea, the Saviour of Man comes strolling out to the disciples. It is understandable that they would be afraid to the point of calling their Messiah a “ghost”. Among crashing peaks and a howling wind, he calmly appears and instructs them to not be afraid. Then we have Peter, growing “suddenly bold”, testing that this is truly his teacher. At Jesus’ call he is out of the boat and onto the waves. He’s walking on water – only to start focusing on his surroundings and start sinking as a result. I cannot help but admire Peter for his boldness – I like to think that I would have been the one to rise to the challenge as well. However, these past few weeks have given me a fresh view of this miracle and Peter’s infamous failure. Perhaps it is not the nerve to step out of the boat once that is essential, but the nerve to step out again and again.
Jesus calls and Peter comes. Peter focuses on the waves and sinks. Peter calls out and Jesus saves. This dance is one that I believe all Christians come to recognise as the true walk with our Lord. Even in the middle of a stormy tempest, Jesus gives us the power to stand upright on our worries, our doubts and walls of water that seem quite apathetic to the fact that we cannot swim very well at all. Yet as we walk, it’s all too easy to forget our trust in him, that lifeline connection that keeps us above the waterline. I am lead back to this passage repeatedly in my walk with God because I too have sunk on more occasions than I would like to admit. In an ideal world, I would trust in Jesus and forever stand at his side; as I repeatedly fail in this I am lead to consider Peter’s actions again.
Peter gets out of the boat and ultimately fails but he is still saved, reinforcing his adoration of and trust in Jesus. We are called to walk to him, one foot in front of the other, but perhaps sinking is an integral part of the experience. It teaches us not to fear leaving our safe places behind and to believe that through Jesus we can accomplish great things. Peter may have doubted that the apparition was indeed the Messiah but he does not doubt that if it was, he could walk with him. Jesus reaches for his disciple without hesitation and only gently rebukes him, like a father reminding his child who he is and what we was made for. I like to imagine that if this incident occurred repeatedly, Peter would be bold enough to step out again before failing – and subsequently being saved – a second, third and fourth time. Believing that God will give us safety throughout our struggles is but one aspect of this story. We must also know that as we fail to trust in God we will be rescued time after time and base our courage on that. When I am confronted by the reality of my own imperfect, human trust in Jesus, I am reminded to be bold and courageous; our fear of leaving our comfort zones is overshadowed by the courage that comes from perpetual salvation, allowing us to answer our own calling over and over.
My dislike of the sea was more than a dislike. It was a genuine phobia. The thought of jumping into an endlessly deep chasm of liquid frightened me to my core. At any moment I would surely be washed away, lost forever. But I overcame that fear - I learned to enjoy the experience because being out among the waves meant I could say I had done so. I had to try again and again but I was no longer that guy too scared to swim. I just had to make that first leap, that first decision and tell myself that I would be okay. Suddenly, I was bold.
Alex McElwee is a Dublin born student just entering into college as a fresh-faced and bushy-tailed nineteen year old. He hopes to enroll in the UCD arts block in September to study English and Classical Civilisations. Alex has loved writing from a young age, a passion that he likes to use in conjunction with his faith. When you’re not catching him waxing poetically in his notebook you might find Alex reading the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald, drinking coffee by the litre or working out in a suspect warehouse gym.