Dear friends in Christ,
It’s funny what sticks in our memory and what doesn’t. As a preacher, I sometimes wonder what anyone will remember an hour after I finish the sermon. For my part, there are a few sermons I remember years later (and some I forget seconds later). Today I’m thinking of one sermon that’s stuck with me. I heard it as a child in elementary school.
The preacher was speaking about the Gospel passage we hear this Sunday—Peter walking on the water (Matthew 14:22-33). The relevant part is brief:
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.”
In the sermon I remember, the preacher assumed Jesus was angry or disappointed. And the preacher said Peter blew it by not trusting Jesus and keeping faith.
That stuck with me, and, for a while, I agreed with that reading. Now I think it is 180 degrees wrong.
Have you ever walked on water? I haven’t! I cannot imagine having the faith that would make this possible! The point is not that Peter failed to keep walking on the water, but rather that Peter managed even a few steps. What is the relationship between Peter and Jesus in this moment? We often don’t have emotional adjectives in the Bible, so we have to be careful what we project onto the speakers.
It seems to me that Jesus was offering compassion. After all, he reached out his hand for Peter. His question may have been asked in pity or in sorrow or in wonder.
Reading the passage as I suggest, it teaches us that we should not beat ourselves up when we fail to keep faith. Rather, we should rejoice for those faithful moments in our lives. And we should know that our Lord Jesus reaches out to catch us when we fail. Jesus offered grace to Peter again and again. Of all the people Jesus could have chosen to lead the church, he chose impetuous Peter, though Peter was often loudly and completely wrong.
Jesus chooses us, too. When we lose our faith, we need only to cry out to Jesus, “Lord, save me!” And Jesus will catch us.
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