“You of little faith. Why did you doubt?”
I recently saw this picture on Facebook and it was exactly what I needed to see.
Me being a mighty theologian automatically thought of Jim Gaffigan, the comedian. Classy, right? Gaffigan, in one of his routines talks about life with four kids. He describes it like this:
“Imagine you’re drowning and then someone hands you a baby.”
This. is. my. life. I love my kids more than I ever thought possible. But there are days. Days of stepped on toys, mounding laundry, spit up so volcanic that it calls for multiple garment changes, spilt milk on carpet, fights over trains, planes and the fact that one kid looked at a toy in the near vicinity of the other child, etc. There are days that I feel myself sinking beneath the responsibilities of motherhood.
Peter, who this picture’s perspective is really from, sank beneath the waves when he lost faith in Jesus (Matthew 14). “You of little faith,” Jesus says, “Why did you doubt?” What a dagger to the heart of St. Peter! Because of this people are quick to throw old Peter under the rutter. “What a weak man! He didn’t trust Jesus. As in, JESUS, the Son of God. As in the man he’s been following for three years?!”
Let’s give St. Peter a chance. This episode plays out in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, AT NIGHT, during a STORM. The apostles are busy trying to keep their boat on course during the storm. Suddenly, they see a figure moving across the waves and wonder if it is a ghost. Peter is the one who calls out to the figure.
“Lord, if it is you then tell me to come to you on the water!”
Read that again.
What does it tell us about Peter’s faith in Jesus?
Peter reveals that he has a sturdy faith by telling the Lord to call him. He does not simply yell, “Come up to this boat and prove to me that you are Jesus!” nor does he say, “Lord show me a sign that it is you and I will believe.”
Instead, like a man, he throws out a bold challenge. “Lord if it is you, tell me to come on the water”. First of all, sweet request. I hope if I’m ever presented with a chance to challenge the Lord in this way I can come up with something awesome like that. Second, it shows he is ready to test his faith in Jesus. He is ready to step out into the unknown. Into the storm. Into the night and meet his Lord. Not on a boat but on the firmness of hope and faith. His faith is sure and is ready for testing it, to make it better, to perfect it.
(Side note: hope has gotten a bad rap these days. Hope is never talked about in a way that is sure. It’s always in the context of “I hope this happens” “I hope I don’t break my leg” “I hope he does”, etc. It’s just shy of wishing on a star. But the hope of Christians is firm, it is meant to be walked on, to set beneath our feet and guide our path. It is sure.)
So, down climbs Peter and he walked on water.
Also important. Peter didn’t sink right away. Scripture doesn’t say, “Peter climbed out of the boat and sank like a rock.” or “Peter tripped on a wave and fell” or “Climbing out of the boat his feet instantly sank beneath the stormy waves”. Which means Peter didn’t have one of those “What in the world was I thinking?!” moments. He wasn’t scared or panicked as he placed his feet on the waves. If he had been he would have sunk right off the bat. Instead scripture says that he walked on the water. Peter’s faith buoyed him toward the Lord.
I think its important to note that Scripture doesn’t say how many steps Peter was able to take towards Jesus that night on sea. How far away was Jesus? Was he half a mile? Fifty feet? We don’t know. But we do know that Peter in fact made enough headway to be termed as walking on water.
So far so good. St. Peter has the faith to call to Jesus and to go out to him.
When does it falter, then? When he saw the storm around him. Felt the wind, saw the waves, etc. It was when the storms of the world built up around him that he took his eyes off of Jesus. Fear entered his heart. Peter looked at the world around him with human eyes. Fear robbed him in an instant of the reality that he was WALKING ON WATER.
It is interesting though, Jesus doesn’t calm the storm as we’ve seen in other places in the Gospel. He doesn’t give Peter, the future leader of His Church, a calm serene path to Himself. In fact, it seems like the opposite probably happened. Peter made the request to walk on water during the storm. If he wasn’t afraid then nor when he was climbing down onto the sea then something must have changed once he was out there.
Anyone who is chosen to be the Lord’s al-byit (his right hand man and holder of the keys to the kingdom until Jesus’ return. Read Isaiah 22:20-23 and Matthew 16:18-19; it is an office meant to be passed on until the return of the King), has to be able to stand firm and fearless in the darkness that this world possesses. In the midst of his fear his feet dive beneath the water’s surface.
Again, something interesting, Peter’ has time to yell out, “Lord save me!” before he’s consumed by the storm. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure only a gasp of fear and a four letter word would have slipped out of my mouth in that moment. Instead, Peter uses what could be his last breath to call out for the Lord’s mercy.
Some may view this as a failure of faith on Peter’s part. Yet, I still think there is an incredible amount of merit in his actions even to the end. Yes, Peter sank. Yes, he let fear steal his heart from God, yet, in the end he implored God’s mercy to save him. Epic save. This is a HUGE theological principle. Even when we fail and focus on our fears, Christ is still there when we call out to Him. His mercy endures forever. He could have punished Peter, could have let him drown or at least stay down there for a few seconds to really scare him. But He didn’t. Instead, Scripture says He reaches out and catches Peter. There is a good chance that Peter’s head didn’t even get wet.
With all of this in context. The line of Jesus does not seem like a dagger to the heart but a gentle disappointment like that of a Father trying to teach His son to ride a bike without training wheels. “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” Then, Jesus does something that makes my heart happy. Matthew tells us that the two climbed into the boat.
I’m going to make a biblical assumption here (dangerous, I know)–but if Peter’s faith was shaken by the storm and the storm is still raging, I’m going to guess that he did not walk back to the boat on his own volition. Instead, having been caught by Jesus, is carried back to the boat in the arms of Christ. If that is true, I can’t imagine how uplifted Peter must have felt. Not only did Christ have mercy on him to save him from his fears and from death. Jesus pulls him into his arms and carries him back to the safety of the boat. It is said that the apostle John often laid his head on Jesus’ chest. But I’m going to guess that this may have been the only time that Peter was able to lay his head on the heart of the Jesus. And what a better scene then that? To be in the arms of your Lord in the midst of his storm with the beating of his heart as the calming echo in your soul as you walk together on the water toward the safe haven of the boat. Makes you think of heaven, doesn’t it?
So, as my footsteps seem to sink beneath the waves of work, toys, fears of the world and the relentless sense of failure, I can look at this picture and relate. Peter may not have made it beneath the waves but no matter how deep I am, I am never out of the reach of Christ who will come for me if only I call on His mercy. Then, Christ will cradle me in His arms and carry me through the storms of this life toward the safe haven of heaven.