Today we take another look at a well-known bible story – Peter walking on water. Hopefully today, we’ll tackle this story with a slightly different focus. Many people believe that this telling of Peter trying to walk on water but failing dismally, is all about Peter’s lack of faith. It was because he doubted that he began to fall into the sea and had to be saved by Jesus reaching out his hand to help. What does it mean to look differently at this story as one that shows us just how much faith Peter did have? Faith as to step out into the raging sea in order to follow Jesus’ instructions. Walter Brueggemann suggests that this is the story of a faithful follower who becomes overwhelmed by the circumstances surrounding him and so begins to lose his nerve when he discovers the odds stacked against him. Jesus sees how overwhelmed Peter is and reaches out a steadying and delivering hand. Our guiding questions for this week are: • Just prior to this story, John the Baptist is beheaded, and Jesus feeds the 5,000 in the desert. How do these events inform this passage? • Consider Matthew 14:28. Why does Peter offer to leave the safety of the boat to join Jesus on the water? What are his motives? What is he trying to accomplish? • What are the stormy seas that threaten to overcome you and your congregation? How might your community offer support to those sinking? Our image for this week comes from Lisle Gwynn Garrity. Here are the words of explanation.
Step into the Swell (Peter sinks in the water)
by Lisle Gwynn Garrity
inspired by Matthew 14:22-33 | acrylic on canvas
At the start of this chapter, John the Baptist is brutally beheaded. Jesus withdraws from the crowds to a deserted place, yet is followed by the masses—perhaps many of them former followers of John the Baptist. Moved with compassion, he heals the sick and miraculously generates bounty from a meal of five loaves and two fish.
Then, he “immediately” rushes the disciples into a boat, dismisses the crowds, and retreats to a mountain by himself. Perhaps he needs space to grieve John and to grapple with the gravity of his calling. The crowds and demands of his ministry were surging; in the same way, the waves and the wind begin to batter the boat that had drifted far from shore. If you’ve ever been in open water during a storm or even high winds, you know the shockwave of fear that pulses through your veins. Yet, as dawn breaks, a mirage beckons to them, casting out words to buoy them up: “Do not fear.”
What I find in Peter’s response is not a challenge or a profession of doubt, but a willingness to step into the swell, like a trust fall into the unknown. Perhaps in seasons when our sense of certainty and security unravels, our desperation is more likely to convert into courage. Is there something about unraveling that makes us a bit less risk-averse, a bit more willing to try what we wouldn’t have dared when everything felt predictable and sure?
Imagine this same scene with no storm, no raging seas, no ghostly glimpse of Jesus skimming the surface. Would Peter have stepped in then? Would he have expanded his definition of what’s possible? Would he have experienced the divine so surprisingly, so surely? Would you step in?
Lisle Gwynn Garrity