Peter is so easily dismissible. Filled with hubris, he rebukes the Christ, silencing any talk about wooden crosses and sandy graves. Filled with violence, he unsheathes his sword, cutting off a servant’s ear. Filled with rejection, he denies being a follower, refusing his Christianity three times. Filled with elitism, he clings to his purity, saying nothing profane or unclean has ever touched his tongue.
Still for all of his inglorious discipleship disasters, Jesus ends up anointing Peter the Rock, the cornerstone of his Church to come. So in today’s text, even if fraught with doubt and countless missteps, what does Jesus see in Peter that’s so faithful?
Matthew 14:22-33 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
A compulsion to reach God regardless of the circumstances.
If the Church is the boat, then Peter knew to get out of the sinking ship.
Like the mustard seed, short Zacchaeus and the little children, Jesus believes in the smallest.
Any salty dog will tell you, there’s a first aid kit under the seat in case you get hurt; a head in the cabin in case you get sick; food in the galley in case you get hungry; a V-berth in the bow in case you get sleepy; a GPS on the cockpit in case you get lost. Reason after pragmatic reason, accessory after accouterment to remain seated while the vessel is afloat, to stay put with the other eleven disciples.
But God hasn’t called us to primarily be boaters but rather believers, hasn’t called us to be safe but rather saved. Bonhoeffer says, “Peter had to leave the ship and risk his life at sea. [And] if people imagine they can follow Jesus without taking this step, they are deluding themselves like fanatics.”
Peter let go of the oar, unbuckled his life jacket and stepped overboard believing that life with God can’t be lived starboard side. That the Holy Ghost is always hovering on the other side of our deepest fear. That faith is found in the perilous storm waiting beyond the water’s edge.
Church, lack of faith isn’t sinking, lack of faith is refusing to get wet.
So “nautical wheelers,” take heart and do not be afraid. Instead, hurl yourself over the gunwale. Risk being in over your head. Risk not ever being able to touch the tippy toe bottom. Risk drawing closer to God. (Jimmy Buffett).
While there are a thousand dinghies charting idle courses, there’s only one sea of spirituality in which to swim. Jesus doesn’t need any more dry deckhands, only more inglorious disciples willing to take the plunge in the name of the one who first drowned for our sake.