The Sunday Scriptures the Church gives us to begin the week, once again bring us outside and into the open where God meets us. This is apt as Mass is now offered in the piazza where we are naturally exposed to the elements of God’s creation, and when we leave the security of the parish grounds, we find ourselves sailing into a storm surrounding us. Will we encounter Christ standing on the waves, or do we fear drowning amidst all the confusion and panic.
First, a thought on miracles. Although the rationally minded might try to explain Christ’s “walking on water” as an optical illusion or offer a natural or scientific explanation, it is well worth reflecting on the interplay between the “whispering breeze” (the breath of God) and the primordial waters of creation as described in the first ten verses of the Book of Genesis. Crack open your Bible at the first page of Scripture. Is it any wonder that the substance of the waters at the very beginning of creation into which God breathed His Spirit, would now remember, welcome, and literally uphold the physical substance of its Creator-God made man when He walked upon it?
Scientists tell us that our bodies are at least two thirds water. That includes Christ’s body, Peter’s, and our own. At Christ’s invitation, Peter was able to also walk on the waters towards his Lord, albeit baby steps, because the waters of the sea also recognized in Peter, the life of God’s Spirit breathed into man when Adam was first created. But the fisherman became distracted. He ran out of breath, afraid of the power of the raging wind and the hidden terrors of the deep.
Is that not also our story - attracted to the invitation to reach out to the unexplainable and unpredictable mystery of God, but afraid that we will lose control of what is familiar in our lives? In the midst of the storm, Peter could have stayed on the boat and resigned himself to going down with his ship. But he didn’t.
Was Peter a fool for thinking he could walk on water? No. He did so only when he could see and recognize Christ standing on the waves in the midst of the storm. Did Christ then set up Peter for failure, knowing that he would eventually sink? No. Our Lord has no wish to humiliate us with failure or teach us a cruel lesson. Instead, Christ wants us, not only to see Him in the storm, but for us to call out when we are afraid, “Lord, save me!” Peter was not humiliated. Instead, Peter the big strong fisherman, had to trust in Christ’s power to save him.
What can we take from this?
Like Peter, when our surroundings are turned upside down and we find ourselves lost in a storm that threatens our lives and livelihoods, we have to look to Christ standing in the midst of it. But beware! We will get wet! There are many false messiahs who can also “walk on water”. Peter had to first be sure it was actually the ‘flesh and blood’ Jesus, not a ghost nor an impersonator. Only then would Peter put his life and livelihood on the line. The fisherman didn’t test the waters first. He tested the identity and the power of the one standing on the waters before he stepped out. As Peter would write later in one of his letters, “Be calm and vigilant”. (1 Peter 5:8).
And we must also do the same! In the midst of crisis, confusion and pandemic hysteria, we can be tempted to blindly jump out in the direction of false messiahs, or mythological sirens (dangerous creatures who lured passing sailors to their death with their enchanting music and songs). A well-seasoned fisherman like Peter instinctively knew how to read the signs even though he knew the dangers of being caught off guard by a change of weather.
Even though our own faith journey towards God can easily be compromised by our fears, and we can find ourselves sinking or overwhelmed by the headwinds, it doesn’t take a mountain of faith to call out to Christ “Lord, save me.” But it does take humility. Yes, we are people of little faith. But we need only the faith the size of a mustard seed! (Matthew 17:20)
Now notice how Christ responds. He “immediately” stretched out His hand and physically caught the big fisherman. That takes both quick reflexes and physical strength. That's the strength and power of the carpenter’s strong arm that Jesus inherited from His foster father Joseph! I imagine our Lord, like a fireman to the rescue, carrying the heavy and exhausted Peter on His shoulders, back across the waters to the boat in the open seas as the waves turned to ripples under the Lord’s feet.There are dangers and sunken debris on the bottom of the sea, in our own depths. Storms will often bring them to the surface. There are hidden dangers below us, within us and around us - the cellar, the attic, a box under the bed, the storage unit, even in the dark corner of our garage or garden shed. That’s where we often place memories, old, good and bad - memories that we revisit every so often. Storms can bring them to the surface. Sometimes we bring them into the light. Sometimes it’s best to put them back in their place. Our lives are cluttered enough. There are some things we should store and bring out for a rainy day. There are some things that should rest in peace without being disturbed. The final word goes to the first line of the Sunday gospel. We are told that after feeding the crowds, Christ made his disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side of the sea. Did He, through whom all creation was made, not know there was a storm approaching? Of course He did! From His place on the mountaintop, I imagine He could also see the storm brewing in the distance and sense the change in the wind. But He had told His disciples to sail to the other side. Coming from the mouth of God made flesh, what does that imply? It simply means, we will get to the other side safely, despite any storm. He is a man of His Word. The Word of the Lord. That’s good news to hear!
Command me to come to you on the water.
After he had fed the people, Jesus made the disciples get into a boat and precede him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening he was there alone. Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them walking on the sea. When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. “It is a ghost, ” they said, and they cried out in fear. At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught Peter, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” After they got into the boat, the wind died down. Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”