I just love a fresh perspective on an old Bible story, especially those stories we like tell our kids in Sunday School. Noah, Jonah, little boy David with his 5 stones, each a shining example of obedience and faith. But put grit to the shiny polish of these childhood heroes and you will see that there is much more below the surface. Grate them with the seasoned fragments of understanding and experience and they will confess the depth of their texture - the grain of the wood, the smell of the sawdust, the marked rings of age and growth collected over life lived in the wilderness.
Of all these beloved Bible characters, Peter is becoming my favorite - passionate and temperamental Peter, the rock on which Jesus would build his church. I like Peter because he is like me, boldly jumping in with both feet and yet reluctant in faith. Remember Peter jumping in the water to walk to Jesus? He sank in his fear. How many times I’ve shared that story with my own son! Each time though, I hang my head and limp away from this lesson for the little in faith. If only I had kept my eyes on Jesus. If only I had more faith. Better faith. Stronger faith. I wouldn’t sink and disappoint Jesus in the one thing he asks of me.
But then I found a fresh perspective.
When I get sprayed by the storms of life and find my faith has faltered, my courage has gone south, I often turn to Matthew 14:22-33. Jesus sees the disciples caught up in a squall. It is between three and six am. He comes walking toward them on the water. They are terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they cry out in fear. He says, “Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid.”
Peter, nothing if not brash, decides to test the voice. “Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you across the water.” The tentative faith of that fearful “if” quickly deteriorates into sheer terror as Peter begins to walk to Jesus. I find comfort (perhaps perverse pleasure) in knowing that the rock on which Jesus would build the church sank like a stone.*
Jesus sees me in the squall and he comes to me where I am. I am terrified. Scared of the storm, scared of failure, scared of the wrath I know I deserve. What if Jesus is not who he says he is, but only the specter of grace and mercy?
"I am the resurrection and the life,” he says. Are you really? I step out of the boat. And the wind breathes doubt and fear into my mind. You may be Jesus, but I am unworthy. I can’t do this.
And I sink.
I share this with you because I think if I open my eyes under the water, I will see you there. You. Me. Peter. We’re all sinking.
But the beautiful thing is that Jesus is already there to pull us up and out of the water. Don’t you think he knew that Peter would jump out of the boat in a flash of bravado and nearly drown himself?
“O, you of little faith. Why did you doubt?” It’s not a reproach. It’s a lament. One that I love, do not doubt. I will always come for you. And do not feel ashamed for there is no condemnation in me.
And so soggy, sputtering Peter will still become the rock on which Jesus built his church. And I will still serve and so will you. Our failures and weakness do not make us useless because Jesus already knows and he will meet us where we are.
*Manning, Brennan (2002). Abba’s Child. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress. p. 143.