All four Gospels in the Christian New Testament tell stories about Peter, a central figure in the band of Twelve fishermen who were disciples of Jesus. As time marched on, the lives of these disciples have mostly been the subject of legend born of the memory of ancient peoples who had the courage to see in a Crucified Jesus their hope. The disciples spent little to no time preserving their legacy, their names, or their significance. Like all truly heroic women and men, they spent their lives in the service of others. Yet, it is precisely such people as these, we seek out for hope and encouragement in our own troubled times.
Matthew’s Gospel tells a unique story concerning Peter (see Matthew 14: 22-33). For some reason, this story is remembered as Peter faltering. Many derive comfort from what appears to be Peter’s failure to accomplish what he set out to do. We can easily identify with Peter’s “failed” effort. Matthew even has Jesus question Peter as to why he doubted. The fact is life is difficult and doubts abound. We need to be gentle with ourselves in times of trouble. We need to be compassionate to others who fear and have doubts. We can identify with them and together we can walk on the rough waters of life.
The typical understanding of Peter lies somewhere between his impulsiveness and his overbearing personality. He even confronted Jesus thinking ultimate hardship was impossible for someone like Jesus. As faithful as Peter appeared to be to that degree and more, he would deny he ever knew Jesus. Peter must not be the object of our scorn or indignation for he reveals the difficulties of trying to be faithful in ambiguous and difficult times. Who among us cannot identify with Peter?
In Matthew 14: 22-33, Jesus famously “walks on water” to the shocking delight and bewilderment of the disciples. This famous scene is reminiscent of the Exodus traditions found in the Hebrew Scripture. It may have little to do with miracles concerning lakes and seas and more to do with inviting individuals and communities to claim their dignity and find their freedom. Sometimes we are more afraid to be ourselves than we are of the latest disaster.
Peter was overwhelmed by the spectacle he experienced wondering if what he was experiencing could possibly be true. Jesus invited Peter, as he invites us, to get out of the securities of our boats and walk on the high seas of life. Peter, alighting from the boat, sank as soon as he forgot the courage it took to leave the security of the boat in the first place.
God bless Peter. He had the courage to try. Sometimes we are so secure in our boats we cling to our false securities until we sink. I pray every day to have the courage of Peter hoping that one day soon I might walk on the waters of life as it is. I fear to take the first step. I would rather sink in my boat than drown in my efforts born of courage. St. Peter, pray for me. I need the courage to at least try.
Thank you, Beloved Community, for all the times you got soaking wet walking on the rough waters of injustice, for all the times you almost drowned walking on the turbulent waters of hatred and prejudice, for all the times you challenged your doubts with your courage.