Friday, January 19, 2007

Walk on Water

Matthew 14 includes the famous story of Jesus and Peter walking on the water together.

The setting:

Jesus feeds five thousand men, along with their wives and children, with bread and fish that came from a little boy. Everybody had their fill and each disciple had a basket of leftovers to take home. Call it "Broken Bread Buffet".

Then Jesus makes the disciples get in a boat and head to the other side of Lake Gennesaret (a quaint lake nestled in a bowl of mountains and rugged hills...which makes it susceptible to sudden, violent wind storms).

Jesus gets away to pray - it's been an intense day. "Father, how did I do? What do you want me to do next? Thank you!"

Jesus looks up from his perch on the moutain ledge and sees his buddies caught in a violent windstorm in the middle of the lake. So he walks out to them.

It says - and this is what we call gospel humor - "When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. 'It's a ghost,' they said, and cried out in fear." Ha! A violent windstorm is nothing. But a ghost...

Anyway, Jesus tells them to take courage, it's him, don't be afraid.

Peter still thinks it is a ghost. He tests the "ghost" to see if it really is Jesus. What a crazy test: if it's you, tell me to walk on water, because a ghost would not tell you to do something like that...a real person might, but not a spirit-being from the netherworld.

Jesus, proving that he is not a ghost, says to come. And Peter, being convinced it is Jesus, comes out on the water. What a fascinating experience those first steps must have been. The tentative toe touching the turbulent water...the foot sinks into the water maybe a quarter of an inch, and Peter bounces his leg lightly, just to see if it is real...then he slowly swings his other leg out of the boat, his belly resting on the boat's edge...testing the water, to see if it will hold his weight. And then he slowly lowers his body so that both feet are resting on the watertop, and he lets go of the boat. Was he smiling? Were the other disciples laughing? I'm assuming the storm is still going on... what a crazy, crazy story.

And so Peter shuffles towards Jesus, but before he gets to him, his eyes catch the fierce wind and the stormy waves...and he gets afraid...of what? Of getting wet? Of falling down? Does he think that if the wind knocks him down he'll sink? Once he starts fearing sinking, his fear becomes true (just like in a nightmare with ghosts...). And he yells out Jesus' name: Jesus (which means God saves).

Jesus immediately grabs his hand...and in that position, Peter's body submerged in the green, churning waters, his arm clasped by Jesus: the Savior says "You of little faith, why did you doubt?"

Apparently it only took a little bit of faith for Peter to walk on water. I think Jesus was surprised at the doubt. And I think he really wanted Peter to ponder that question. It wasn't said to shame Peter. It was meant to instruct Peter. Of course he is embarrased, what guy wouldn't be. But to have come so far with Jesus, and then still doubt...sounds like me.

Peter trusted Jesus up front. But in the middle of the walk, the trust wavered. The wind was scary. Life gets scary, uncertain, overscheduled, self-absorbed, sad, etc. And all of those real "winds" can make us fear for our life and doubt Jesus.

It bugs me that I'm a doubter. I doubt Jesus too much. I see the wind while I'm walking on water. Jesus does great things in my life, my church, my family and friends,'s like I'm walking on water...and then I see all this stuff...and I doubt.

But only for awhile. Because the winds die down. And Jesus is still there. And he still goes on doing his work of setting people free from what ails them - bringing them shalom. And he keeps using me to bring people shalom, and I keep witnessing him doing it, and with my little faith (which he gave me) I keep letting him help me keep walking with him.

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