This question arises from the reaction of the disciples to the sight of Jesus walking on the water. After sending the disciples off by boat, they were left struggling in a dangerous storm. They were alone; the boat was battered by the sea. This is symbolic of the later church battling against forces that threatened to engulf it as it went out on its mission to the world.
The disciples, however, were in a desperate situation. The night was dark, the wind was strong, and the waves were swamping the boat. They were threatened from without by hostility and from within by their fear and little faith. Is not this our situation today.
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Early in the morning they saw Jesus walking towards them on the sea, but they could not recognize him. The idea of walking on the sea, in Jesus’ world, was not so much gravitational as overcoming the chaos of the storm. We find the following lines in Psalm 77:
The waters saw you, O God;
The waters saw you and were afraid
Even the depths school with trembling.
And then in Isaiah the following:
Thus says the Lord,
Who made a way through the sea,
A path in the mighty waters.
“It is a ghost they conclude in terror.” But Jesus reassures them: “Take heart. It is I.” This was how God identified himself to Moses at the burning bush. Thus the post Easter church is assured that the divine presence is never truly absent. Even at its darkest hour Emmanuel is with them to the end of the age.
Peter reacted. He was a model of both trusting commitment and of fear and weakness. He walked on the water until he became afraid. He forgot Jesus’ word, felt the power of the wind, and began to sink. His cry, “Lord save me” echoed the earlier plea of the disciples. Here we have Jesus’ gentle rebuke, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” is used once again. Peter in his journey across the waves represents all of us on our journey of faith. Whenever in our faith we turn our back on Jesus we will feel his strong hand rescue us.
The church has become fearful. We are afraid of losing prestige and power and of being rejected by society. We are afraid of one another: the hierarchy hardens, theologians are losing their freedom, pastors would rather not take any risks. We, the faithful, fear for the future. Behind all of this is our “little faith” in Jesus and our reluctance to follow him.
Fr Brian Kelty