In the Gospel we heard today we have one of those stories we have all heard many times in our lives. It’s one of those stories that we may think we know well and know the meaning of. Oh we might say, that is the story of Peter who dared to step out of the boat in the middle of the great dark water in the midst of the night watch because he sees his Lord and Savior coming across the waves, and he had enough faith when Jesus said “Come” to take those steps on the water toward Jesus. It’s a story we might say, about having a lot of faith in God. Or we might say it’s the story of Peter who doubted and sank in the waves and only was saved from drowning by God’s grace. Peter, who started out strong in his faith, but allowed himself to become frightened and to doubt, and begins to sink, and if not for Jesus would have drowned right then and there. We might say, it’s one of those stories that tells us that we must always keep our eyes on God and not let the world frighten us, because it’s all going to come out all right. Or we might say it’s about Peter who had the faith to take that first step out of the boat to begin with, but ultimately earned the gentle reprimand of Jesus for being of “little faith” for not being able to continue his walk all the way across the water to meet Jesus. It means we must always strive to make our faith stronger because we can never have enough. So it's a story teaches us we should work harder to develop our faith in God. Or it's the story of Peter who has sense enough to ask for God to save him as he sinks instead of being too proud and hardheaded to allow Jesus to help him so that he just goes ahead and perishes in the waves. In this case the story tells us we should be humble and rely on God to save us. But as we tell each of these version of the Peter story, we must get out of the boat and at least try to walk on the water.
What we tend to forget is that in this story, there were also some other characters. There were a group of other disciples with Jesus that day. Just before this story happened Jesus had fed the five thousand, and just before that, he had received word that his beloved friend John the Baptist had been murdered and he had not even had time to grieve. he had been trying to get up into the hills to have some time to himself when those crowds had followed him. He is finally going now into the mountains to get some time alone to pray. We can imagine that perhaps he was hoping that it would be a simple trip across the sea for his friends in the boat while he was away from them. But we are told the winds came up and waves were high and the boat was far from the land. We can imagine that not only Peter, but everyine in that boat is not having a good time at this point. First a storm and now, this apparition. They see someone walking across the water. They see Jesus coming towards them, but they do not recognize that it is him, they think he is a ghost! We don’t know what the others in the boat did right away… but we assume that despite their fear they must have kept rowing. Rowing and perhaps bailing, because that is usually what it takes to keep afloat when the seas are stormy.
Peter speaks up, Peter gets up, steps out, and takes those actions we know so well. And that was wonderful. We can tell great stories and get great teachings about our faith lives from what Peter did. But there might be something for us too in the actions of the other disciples. When Jesus spoke and said to them, Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid,” perhaps at least some of them heard that message and were comforted. Perhaps they already got the notion that it was Jesus and he was walking out to the whole boatload of them.Perhaps in that very moment they believed and did not need to be shown further proof. Perhaps their worship began in that very second. And maybe they were even offering comfort there in the boat to one another as they rowed on in the tumultuous waves, as they watched their friend Peter get out of the boat “What IS he doing!” they might have thought! First to see him walk on the water, then fall into the water about to drown in the stormy seas…they might have been experiencing their own turbulent emotions. Perhaps they were saying, “No, I can’t watch!” like we do when someone we love is doing something we think is foolhardy or dangerous. Perhaps they were praying like mad for God to save Peter and when Jesus reached for him that was what confirmed for them that he was the Messiah! Or perhaps they secretly wished that they too had stepped from the boat with him. Or perhaps though they knew that just like Peter was the one called to step out of the boat, they were called to stay and row.
It’s like that, isn’t it? Some of us are called to be like Peter. The ones who do the big thing, the brazen thing. The thing that might get noticed and commented on. Whether it’s to say, “well he or she is a person of great faith,” or “they are a fool for God,” or “they had better water that mustard seed a little more”…they are our Peters. And we need Peters. We need the folks who get out of the boat, the ones who risk drowning for the sake of the Gospel. But we also need those who stay and row and bail. The ones who faithfully day by day live in community with one another, bearing one another’s burdens. The ones who pray for each other. The ones who try to live out the Great Commandment to love one another as God loves us, to manifest the fruits of the Spirit with one another, being patient and kind, peacemaking and forgiving, gentle and faithful. This too takes faith. Faith not in an idea or a concept but faith in the person of Jesus. Because having faith in Jesus means we are willing to follow him, to live lives based on his life, this Incarnate One, fully human, fully Divine who manifests to us who God is and who we can be.
So whether you are led to get out of the boat and walk on the water or whether you are led to stay and row, know that Jesus walks toward you with hands outstretched saying, “Come to me.”