Lessons in Walking on Water
Imagine with me for a moment that itís the first century, and that you are one of Jesusí twelve disciples. Letís say youíre Simon Peter, the eager, impulsive, born leader whose first instinct was always action. Imagine that Jesus asks you to go for a walk with Him. What a privilege!
But now imagine, that walk is going to be across the water, on top of the waves, on a night when a windstorm has churned up high surf. That was the situation facing Peter in todayís gospel. How did Jesus and Simon Peter come to be in that situation?
The previous afternoon, Jesus had received word that John the Baptist had been brutally murdered at the order of Herod, as a result of a frivolous promise Herod made while drunk at his own birthday party. Jesus and John were cousins, and no doubt felt a special closeness. John had baptized Jesus, the launching of Jesusí public ministry, and had been a mentor to some of Jesusí own disciples. Hearing the sudden, tragic news of Johnís senseless death, Jesus slipped away by boat to a remote beach, to be by Himself, to think and pray.
Soon, a crowd gathered from the nearby village, the disciples showed up, and Jesus probably sighed deeply and rose to begin another several hours of preaching and healing the sick, all the while still mourning inside for His cousin John. This was the never to be forgotten afternoon when Jesus fed five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish, and gathered twelve baskets of leftovers.
Finally, Jesus sent the crowds home and asked the disciples to go by boat to the other side of the sea of Galilee, and He climbed a nearby mountain to again be by Himself to think and pray, talking things over with His Father. About four oíclock in the morning He walked out to meet the disciplesí boat ... which was by this time out in the middle of this very large, and very deep, inland sea. He walked across the water. It had been a long and difficult day at the end of a long and difficult week, He was tired, He was God, and He simply suspended one of the laws of physics for a short while and took the most direct route.
It scared the disciples. They thought He was a ghost. But when they heard His voice, they knew it was their Master.
What happened when Simon Peter asked to walk out to meet Jesus on the waves? Jesus didnít say, "Iím sorry, Peter, but walking on water is reserved for Messiahs." He didnít laugh and say, "Are you kidding? Do you think youíre God?" No. He stretched out His hand and said, "Come." Jesus knew that with His help, Peter could do anything. With His help, you and I can do anything He calls us to do.
After a few steps, of course, Peter realized that what he was doing was impossible, and he took his eyes off Jesus, stared in horror at the huge waves crashing around Him, and began to sink. In our day, itís not unusual to hear those who will criticize Peter for his lack of faith. What we often forget is that in those few moments, Simon Peter did more walking on water than any poor sinner before, or since. He holds the record for walking on water, and itís a record that has never been broken.
And thereís something else here that we can learn from old Peter. In the moment when he began to sink, he knew where to turn for salvation. He prayed the shortest prayer in the Holy Scriptures -- "Lord, save me!" He didnít have time to say, "Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name." He was slipping quickly into the windy surf off the coast of Galilee and was going to drown! He said the only words he had time to say -- "Lord, save me!"
We all need to pray that prayer. We all need to reach that moment of clarity when we realize that what we are doing is impossible -- not walking on water, but trying to get to Heaven on our own without Jesus. And in that moment we need to reach out with all the urgency and honesty of Peter, and cry, "Lord, save me!" And when we do, He will stretch out His hand toward us across the wild surf of our existence, and say "Come to Me."
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