Yesterday, when blogging about Sunday’s gospel lesson (Matthew 14:22-33), I wrote about Peter’s question (technically conditional statement): “Lord, if it is you…” Today, I’m drawn to Jesus’ question: “…why did you doubt?”
As a child, I loved this gospel passage because Peter was invited out onto the water. Peter was just a man. If Jesus could make him walk on water, then Jesus could make me walk on water, too. I dreamed of what it would be like. Would my feet sit right on top of the water as if it were solid ground? Would they float an inch or two below the surface and splash whenever I took a step? Would I lose heart when the wind picked up and start to sink like Peter? I’m sure all of these ponderings were to miss the point of the miracle, but I liked imagining that it was possible.
I’ve heard several preachers talk about how Peter represents us. He’s the one who boldly crashes into one embarrassing statement after another. Lord, you will never wash my feet! Lord, I will never deny you! If it is you, command me to come to you on the water! Like us, he’s the kind of guy who doesn’t always get it. He struggles to make sense of who Jesus really is, but he fumbles about enthusiastically. Perhaps that’s what gets him into trouble in this story. He’s bold enough to walk out on the water, but that adventurous first step isn’t based on solid reasoning or unshakable faith. It’s as if his heart is moving his feet instead of his brain.
And then the wind picks up. Peter begins to sink. He cries out, “Lord, save me!” And Jesus reaches out his hand and catches him, saying, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” I’m not one to take sides here, but I’m not sure Jesus is being fair to Peter.
Little faith? What does little faith look like? Is Jesus saying to Peter, “If you had more faith, you wouldn’t have started to sink?” Is Jesus saying to Peter, “If you really understood who it was who called you out onto the water, you wouldn’t have worried when the wind picked up?” Or maybe Jesus is taking issue with Peter’s panicked response, “Lord, save me!” Like a child who worries that her father is going to drive off and leave her while she is inside the gas station using the restroom, what was Peter worried about? Did he think Jesus would let him drown?
Whatever lack of faith Jesus has in mind, I don’t hear him being critical of Peter. Jesus isn’t saying, “You should have had more faith.” Instead, he says, “You of little faith. Why would you doubt?” Of course I will save you. Of course you will be alright. Of course the wind and waves will not overcome you. It’s a teaching moment, not a corrective moment. Jesus is saying to Peter—and to all of us—I know you’ll have doubts, but don’t worry; I will always take care of you.
Even when Jesus walks out to us on the water, it is easy to let the storms of life terrify us. Even when Jesus himself comes to save us from our peril, it is easy to be afraid. Even when Jesus calls us out on the water to him, it is natural for us to get nervous when the wind blows up. Jesus isn’t questioning that response. He isn’t accusing us of anything. He’s simply reminding us that there isn’t any reason to be afraid.
What is your response when the wind kicks up? What would Jesus say to you in your moment of need?