Sunday 9 August 2020
The personality of Peter the Apostle at as it emerges in the Gospels is interesting indeed. You can almost always rely on him to jump in head first where others feared to tread. Or, as in today’s Gospel event, he did not jump in so much as got out and walked.
Surely he would have known that he was better off staying with the boat and waiting for Jesus to make his way to them.
It does of course seem from the narrative in the Gospel that it was Jesus’ very presence on the water that prompted him to try to cross the water to him. As I suggested, we learn from other incidents in the Gospels that Peter was something of an impetuous person and he seemed willing to place his trust in Jesus rather than in the boat that was bobbing about like a cork in the strong winds. The other thing that we learn about Peter from various Gospel incidents is that he was also quite frail and his actions didn’t always match his words.
It is his frailty, his wavering faith, which came quickly into play in this incident and saw him starting to sink. Fear of his situation took over from his trust in Jesus. The reality of the world around him shut out the focus upon Jesus that he began with and the call to come to him.
One of the things that I love about the way that Peter is portrayed in the Gospels is that he is so human, so frail, so easy to identify with as a role model.
I don’t know about you, but I can easily identify with the burst of enthusiasm for Jesus that seems to peter out (if you will excuse the pun) all too quickly.
On the surface of things, I don’t think that we can deny that Jesus does call people to leave their area of comfort and security and venture into unknown places in his name. Besides this example today with Peter, we have gospel accounts of incidents like the rich young man who wanted to be perfect, but who went away saddened when Jesus indicated that his quest would involve giving up his riches. Jesus calls on his disciples to take up their crosses and come and follow him. His call is usually quite insistent and immediate.
Our first response can be positive and we can go after Jesus as he challenges us, but all too quickly, courage fails and we begin to sink, just like Peter did in today’s gospel story.
However, the gospel story tells us something very important about Jesus. If he calls someone and they begin to sink following their original enthusiasm, he will stretch out his hand to rescue them. And not only will he rescue them, but his words will not be harsh – just a simple question: “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
I suppose “you of little faith” is a title we all deserve from time to time. Which one of us can put hand on our heart and claim that we never fail in faith; that we never doubt Jesus’ reassuring presence in our lives.
For many years, I have struggled with this perceived failure in myself to maintain trust in Jesus in challenging situations to which he might have called me. And I would have to be honest and say that I generally beat myself up a bit on these occasions, reprimanding myself for my failure to carry through with Jesus’ call. You may be like me and tend to be hard on yourself when you see yourself to be letting Jesus down. But, the gospel incident sees him being far more patient than we are with ourselves. “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
This should give us some confidence that, although Jesus wants us to be brave and to step out of our places of security for him, he will not abandon us in the effort, and he will rescue us if we start to sink, and he won’t admonish us with harsh words if we don’t manage to see the task through. Rather, he will recall for us that the frequent occasions when we fail in trust of him only serve to remind us how reliant we are on God’s grace in the first place.
If we are to grow the Christian community, each one of us is going to have to step out of the boat onto the moving water. Jesus will be calling us to come to him in some circumstance that we do not find comfortable at all. What we learn from this gospel passage is that Jesus does want us to take the first step even if it transpires that we don’t succeed. Even if we start to sink through lack of trust in him. He will always be there to rescue us.
What greater incentive can we have to be people who takes risks for Jesus than the knowledge that he will always be our help and that he will not allow us to sink. Encouraged in this belief, let’s be a people that confronts our fears and timidity in stepping out for Jesus, knowing that his hand will always be there. Let’s pray:
Christ, whose insistent call disturbs our settled lives: give us discernment to hear your word, grace to relinquish our tasks, and courage to follow empty-handed wherever you may lead, so that the voice of your gospel may reach to the ends of the earth. Amen.
Archdeacon Allan Paulsen