Gospel of Matthew 14: 25-33 (NIV)
25 During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.
27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
29 “Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came towards Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshipped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Of all the disciples who were in that boat, only Peter dared to step out of the boat. What led him to do that? Was it his impetuous nature? Was it his faith in his Lord, even though that faith had yet to mature? Was it Spirit-led but with Peter’s natural self then getting in the way? We may not ever know but we may be certain that, when the disciples saw this “apparition” on the lake’s surface, Peter responded far more quickly and far more earnestly than did any of the others.
And what of Jesus? He deliberately encouraged Peter: “Come”. Did Jesus already know what was to happen? Had he known Peter so well that the entire sequence of events was evident before him? Was this Jesus’ deliberate way of teaching the disciple whom he was preparing for leadership of the infant church?
I would like to hear the tone in Jesus’ voice as he reached out his hand towards the sinking Peter. How did he express those words, “You of little faith”? Was Jesus gently and lovingly laughing with Peter? Was he showing frustration or irritation? Was he scolding Peter? This side of heaven, I doubt we’ll ever know.
I like to think that Jesus said it to Peter with a smile, knowing that the lesson he intended for Peter had already been learned. I think of another encounter, where Jesus was in conversation with a rich young man (Mark 10).
17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No-one is good-except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honour your father and mother.’”
20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
“Jesus looked at him and loved him.” I believe that is how he regarded Peter the instant Peter stepped out of the boat. I believe that is how Jesus regards all his “sheep”. I believe it describes how he sees my stumbling attempts to follow him and, while the world might look on critically as I make mistakes, Jesus continues to love me.
For more on Matthew 14: 25-27, see the reflection of 4 August 2015.