I am continually fascinated by Peter in the gospels. Here is a man who at first seems to understand who Jesus is and what he can do, but then goes on to second guess himself and doubt. In today’s gospel for example, he sees Jesus on the water, and because Jesus says to come out of the boat toward him, he does so, believes that he won’t sink, and sure enough, Peter’s walking toward him. But then he looks around, sees the high wind, and says to himself, “I shouldn’t be able to do this”, and he starts sinking. It’s like those old cartoons where a character runs over a cliff, but keeps running on the air until they realize there’s no ground beneath them. Only then do they fall.
The lesson we can take from this story is quite simple and obvious. When we focus on Jesus, we can stand above the waves around us. When we look away, we become afraid and sink. But a question remains. Why do we look away? It would be one thing if Peter had doubts at the beginning, but we hear that he believed he could walk out to Jesus right away, and in fact he was doing it. And despite already walking toward Jesus on the water, he then doubted.
I think the same thing often happens to us. We can all mention times where God has blessed us, given us support, and experienced his love, joy and peace in our lives. Yet when we come across the wind and waves of life, when we go through some trial, we quickly forget, and start to doubt. So we ask, “where is God?” And it is because we have lost our focus, we have turned our attention away. We become so preoccupied with this and that, with that trouble and that issue, that we forget to look and move toward Jesus Christ, who is always so near to, ready to grab hold and lift us up.
But we sometimes miss the fact that God is near to us. Perhaps one of those reasons is that we only seek God in the grand or the extraordinary, expecting God to constantly show off his power.
Elijah in our first reading thought God would reveal himself through some powerful force of nature, but instead he revealed himself in a whisper. God often works through subtle, everyday things. He created the world and all of us, and uses things so familiar that we often don’t notice Him at work, especially when we live in a world filled with distractions.
Perhaps it is a sense of self-doubt, or lack of faith, that we’re not up to the task of walking toward Jesus amidst the waves and wind, that what he asks of us just isn’t possible. So people will say, you can’t really love your enemies, you can’t live a chaste life, no one can be that nice and charitable, and I think we all too often believe it. Or maybe, you see others doing this, but say, “I myself cannot do this, I am not capable of such things.” But that’s false. Those who place their faith in Christ have gone to live the Christian life well, and bore great fruit as a result. There were trials to be sure, there always are, but in my reading of the saints, real people like you and me, and my own experience in life, I know that faith in Jesus Christ, devotion to his teachings, and the will to carry them out produces great joy and satisfaction in life, no matter what form it takes. It takes faith
The faith of Peter, which would continue to waver from time to time, would later allow him to lead the young Church through the rough seas of the world, even bravely toward his own death. Countless other men and women would do the same, and still do.
The simple matter is this. Jesus is calling out to us, calling us to walk toward him, through the roughness that we call life. But instead of overwhelming us, we can stand above the waves with Jesus, because we are united with him through our baptism, through our prayers, and through our daily living with him. When God calls, come toward him, he will reach out to you, to keep you afloat, stay with you, and lead us to everlasting joy with him in eternity.