“Peter Doesn’t Swim”
Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead. The King James says that “Jesus constrained the disciples to get into the boat.” It was clearly not the disciple’s idea to leave Jesus alone with the crowd. They probably wanted to stay while he dismissed them, but Jesus insisted they get into the boat and go on ahead of him. It had to be quite exhausting to be the center of attention; to be the one that everyone wanted to see, to touch, to speak to. I can recall a diocesan convention several years ago, when Presiding Bishop Katherine was the speaker. We had just adjourned for the lunch break, which was a very short break if I remember correctly. I saw a large crowd of people head in her direction, and a line began to form, just to say hello, to get a blessing, or to simply speak with her. She handled it with her usual grace, but it must have been a bit exhausting and it took up more than half of her lunch time before all in the line had their moment with her.
It must have been the same for Jesus, but even more so. This was Jesus who did miracles, who had the power to feed 5,000 people, who could heal the sick, could bring the dead back to life. Is it any wonder that people wanted to get a moment with him? And not just the crowd, for the disciples also made demands on Jesus’ time, even when it was well intentioned. So it is not surprising that he would send them away while he handled the last of the crowds, to give him a brief respite and a few moments alone.
So we have the disciples alone in a boat and night is falling. They are far from shore when a storm comes up and the small boat starts to get battered by winds and high seas. Not exactly a good place to be. They were certainly wet and uncomfortable, and likely afraid of the storm. And then, in the wee hours of the morning, in the darkness, they see a man walking toward them on the storm-tossed sea. If they were not already, they are most certainly terrified at this point. “It is a ghost’, and they cried out in fear.” But Jesus tells them not to be afraid.
We know the rest of the story. Peter walks onto the water, starts to fall, and is saved by Jesus. We hear the rebuke ‘oh ye of little faith’ and we chalk it up to good ole Peter once again. I have said this before, but it bears repeating. If Peter had not actually existed, the gospel writers would have had to make him up. Think about it. Peter is the perfect foil for the action that takes place. It is as if he came straight from central casting in Hollywood. Peter who is just a tad too anxious to please. Peter who wouldn’t let Jesus wash his feet. Peter who doesn’t quite have enough faith. Peter who would deny the Lord three times before the cock crowed.
The reason Peter is such an integral part of the story is that we can all relate to him. If he were the stereotypical hero, if he were Hercules, he would never make a mistake. He would be exactly what he always tried to be, but so seldom was. Instead he was entirely human, and that is what makes him relatable. For we all try and fail, so we can see ourselves in Peter. And we can see that if Peter could fail and still be redeemed, then there is hope for us as well.
But I think it is too easy in this story to condemn Peter. I think history has given him a bad rap this time. For what do we all remember about this story? Oh ye of little faith, poor Peter, failing yet again. But how exactly did Peter find himself in this predicament? “Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said ‘Come’. So Peter go out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus.” Let me say that again. Peter said, Lord, command me to come to you on the water. Peter ASKED for this. And that is amazing.
Let me remind you that the disciples found themselves in a boat on a rough sea, tossed by the wind and waves, in the middle of the night. They see a strange apparition walking toward them on the water and are terrified. And Peter, poor old doesn’t quite get it Peter, does something remarkable. He asks the Lord to tell him to get OUT OF THE BOAT!
This is incredibly courageous. It had to be way outside of his comfort zone, yet Peter asks Jesus to set him this impossible task. Think of how hard that would have been if it were you or me. Do you think you would have the faith to ask the Lord for something so impossible? I certainly don’t. I know that I don’t have the strength, or the skill, or the courage to do something so difficult.
But that is precisely the point. Peter doesn’t have the skill or the strength or the ability to do this by himself either. He didn’t just climb out of the boat. He asked Jesus to command him to do this impossible task. For Peter knew something that we tend to forget. Nothing is impossible for God. So while Peter couldn’t do it alone, he could with God’s help. The same is true for us.
Do you have the courage to ask God to help you with a seemingly impossible task? How about something well outside your comfort zone? It need not be walking on water, for we have opportunities every day. We collect school supplies for Communities in Schools, but they also need people to mentor and tutor kids. We collect food for the Epicenter foodbank, but have you ever thought about going down there and handing out the food to those in need? We collect personal items for Gabriel’s gift, but they also need folks to go out and distribute them to homeless folks here in town. These things may be way outside of your comfort zone, but if you ask God for help, they are surely things you can accomplish.
And you may find that doing these things, things that are done with and through the Lord will put you into places and situations you could never dream of. You all know Deacon Ann. She has always had a heart for the homeless and the hungry, and after turning more deeply to God she became even more involved in helping and in advocacy. But she never dreamed that this would lead to an opportunity to advocate in person with the President of the United States. Yet, that happened.
You never know what God has in store for you until you ask for his help. And when you do, you will be able to do things you never dreamed of. To quote from Dr. Seuss, “Oh, the places you will go.”