It’s a familiar story, a lesson in faith and trust, a lesson that is pointed out to us as a model of what faith and trust can do. It’s a story about doing the impossible and, in a way, being like the White Queen in Alice in Wonderland, believing “six impossible things before breakfast.” It’s a story featuring our friend Peter who seems to stumble between flashes of brilliance and moments of utter lamebrained-ness who is now seen in one of his mixed moments, beginning with brilliance but then suddenly faltering. It seems to be a pattern with Peter. For a moment there, though, his soles were the only things that got wet, like walking barefoot on a wet sidewalk.
Sometimes we refer to a person who never seems to put a foot wrong as one who can walk on water. I’ve known a few people like that and it is always a source of amazement to me. Of course I know they goof up from time to time but somehow those folks continue to have both my amazement and my admiration. I’ve never been able to do it much less walk on water, even across a tiny mud puddle in the driveway and even if only the sole of my foot gets wet. Perhaps it’s because my rational thinking gets in the way of my belief and/or my trust.
John Ortberg wrote a book with a very thoughtful title To Walk on Water You First Have to Get Out of the Boat. There’s more truth than poetry in that one. It was true for Peter and, in other ways, just as true for us. We may not face being in a wooden boat out in what could be a potential watery grave but there are times when we have to face leaving a place or a state of security and put a foot over the side toward insecurity and the unknown. Now there are some who would jump out of the boat, grab the anchor rope by their teeth and try to pull the boat to shore even if they had to walk on water to do it. Those are risk-takers and there are a lot of them in the world. They like a challenge and perhaps a bit of danger. I don’t think Peter was much of a risk-taker although he did take a big one when he signed on to follow Jesus, didn’t he? What about us? Was it a risk for us too?
Walking on water also implies a high level of trust, something Peter had until his rational mind clicked in and he realized he was doing something he shouldn’t be able to do. That rationality kicking in caused Peter to lose the focus (and the trust) and start to sink so that Jesus had to haul him back in the boat before he drowned. It was a test of faith and, for a brief time, Peter was passing with flying colors but then he lost it or, as they would say in the modern idiom, FAIL.
Every day we are called on to have trust — in ourselves, in our co-workers and family, in our authority figures, in our church, in total strangers across the globe and even in an invisible entity we call God. Sometimes it is hard to trust those we can see and hear and feel even though we may know or be told we should, so how much harder is it to trust someone or something we can’t see or touch? That’s what the essence of faith is, though, trusting as if our lives depended on it, as if we needed to walk on water only without sinking like Peter.
What if I stretched my possibilities, took a risk and got out of the boat of complacency, heading for the figure of Jesus standing just out of reach like a parent encouraging a child to take its first independent steps? If I were standing in Peter’s shoes, could I walk on water if I truly believed I could and trusted that Jesus wouldn’t let me sink? How much am I willing to trust? And what am I going to do if I do actually manage to walk on water, even figuratively? How much of me am I willing to get wet?
I guess I need to get out of the boat, don’t I? That’s the first step – and the hardest.