Matthew 14:23b-33 When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (NRSV)
The most common command in the scriptures is “Fear Not!” “Do not be afraid.” “Take heart”.
The disciples had reason to be afraid. They could not possibly have processed what was going on, seeing a figure coming toward them over the water…in the dark of night…in the chop of the storm. How could they imagine it as anything other than a ghost? People usually see what they expect to see. They could not have expected to see Jesus walking across the stormy sea.
Peter had reason to be afraid too. Experienced sailors know when to be afraid. Storms on the Sea of Galilee are known to come up quickly and blow hard. It is a treacherous body of water to sail. It is deadly to be overboard in seas like that. But once Jesus spoke and identified himself, Peter responded. He probably recognized him, out there in the midst of the waves, but needed to verify; to overcome his disbelieving mind. Maybe Peter wants to believe him when he says not to give in to fear. It is hard, so he tests Jesus. “If it is really you, command me to come to you.” And to Peter’s credit, when Jesus said “Come.” Peter went.
Our natural inclination in such situations is to fear. But fear and faith are opposites, and coexist like oil and water. They don’t mix very well. Peter could hold onto his fear and stay in the boat, or he could hold onto his faith, and get out as Jesus commanded. Peter took hold of his faith, got out, and he walked on the water. That is until he was tempted to pick up the fear again. Did he take his eyes off Jesus and realized the waves were still intense and began to feel the fear? Or did the fear pull his attention from the Lord to see the waves? I don’t think it matters. They both happen in life. The good news is that Jesus was there to reach out to him and keep him from sinking. Jesus is always close enough to reach out and rescue us.
It is curious to note that this time, Jesus continued to let the wind blow and the seas rage. It was just 6 chapters back that Jesus calmed the storm for the disciples when they were afraid they were about to die in another stormy crossing. Jesus won’t calm all the storms of our lives, but he will be close enough to grab us and never let us go so the storms will not overwhelm us.
blessings to you,
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.