Out of the frying pan and into the fire. Or more accurately, out of the boat and into the water. This Sunday's gospel is definitely one of my favorites and I'd venture to guess it's at or near the top of almost everyone's list of the Bible's most memorable moments.
All the dramatic elements are there. The scene opens with the disciples sailing in the dark. Jesus is not with them when a storm comes out of nowhere. But as the wind kicks up and things get rough, they see a ghostly figure across the waves. As the form walks toward them on the sea, they become petrified and shout, "It's a ghost!" A familiar voice echoes back through the wind, "It is I."
Without missing a beat, Peter calls out into the gloom: "Lord, if it's really you, command me to come to you on the water." I can't help but wonder what the rest of them thought in that moment. Who does Peter think he is? Is he crazy? The wind is against us. And then the Lord answers him with the one word that changes everything: "Come."
And that is where most of us live the vast majority of our lives.
The Lord speaks to us when the winds are strong and our boat is far from shore. He calls when the waves toss us off course, and we're doing everything in our power just to keep afloat. Jesus approaches when we're wet, uncertain, and afraid; when shadowy figures haunt our restless imaginings and we are sure that we're alone.
In the fourth watch of the night, the voice of Jesus floats over the waters. And he says the same word to each one of us that he did to Peter on the Sea of Galilee: "Come." Come out of the security of your boat. Come into the unknown and stand. Come, and walk across the sea.
The invitation is clear. But it's so hard to leave the boat and so much easier to trust the vessel we're in rather than the voice of the one who shows us that all things are possible. We know we cannot walk the waves ourselves, and so we never dare to set our feet upon the water. We cling to all we know, especially when the seas are rough.
Peter must have put one leg over the side and then the other. He must have held onto the edge of the hull as he stepped onto the sea. The rest of the disciples must have gasped as he stood and began to walk toward Jesus. But no one else jumped into the water.
And then, Peter's fear got the better of him. Overwhelmed by the conditions around him, his faith faltered and he began to sink. And that's what happens to most of us, too. Even when we trust God enough to do the impossible, we start questioning all over again. Are we kidding ourselves? Is this really happening? How long can this go on?
Oh how little faith we have! Even those of us who manage to muster enough to get out of our boats in the middle of a storm end up sinking. But if we do, we can always cry out to Jesus the way Peter did. "Lord, save me!" We can grasp the hand that reaches out to lift us up and breathe again. We can peel back the doubt that tells us we could never walk on water and learn to trust in God completely.
Fierce winds die down, and the sea returns to calm. I pray that more of us will be able to look back upon the storms we face now and recall what it was like to walk the waves, even for just a few steps.
- Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and serves as a senior editor at Ave Maria Press. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.