Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side while he would send the crowds away. After sending the crowds away he went up into the hills by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, while the boat, by now far out on the lake, was battling with a heavy sea, for there was a head-wind. In the fourth watch of the night he went towards them, walking on the lake, and when the disciples saw him walking on the lake they were terrified. ‘It is a ghost’ they said, and cried out in fear. But at once Jesus called out to them, saying, ‘Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid.’ It was Peter who answered. ‘Lord,’ he said ‘if it is you, tell me to come to you across the water.’ ‘Come’ said Jesus. Then Peter got out of the boat and started walking towards Jesus across the water, but as soon as he felt the force of the wind, he took fright and began to sink. ‘Lord! Save me!’ he cried. Jesus put out his hand at once and held him. ‘Man of little faith,’ he said ‘why did you doubt?’ And as they got into the boat the wind dropped. The men in the boat bowed down before him and said, ‘Truly, you are the Son of God.’
When I was very small, so long ago 'old money' was involved, there was an annual school charity project to support the third world. Each class would be given a poster representing Jacob's ladder and each student would be given a paper cutout of an Asian, South American or African child that would sit at the bottom rung of the ladder until a penny was provided to move it up the ladder, one rung at a time, and into heaven. It was the one time of the year that I knew our family was poor. My 'baby' never, ever made it to heaven. Whilst other classmates had whole nurseries of angelic children, me and a few others would see their babies hover neither here or there. In a time when Limbo was, superstitiously, considered a probability I worried one from one year to the other about the ones I hadn't 'saved'.
At the time. children's spirituality, like education, was a case of being told what to think. I told the teacher about my worries. The reply was that it was my problem that I had not saved, begged or earned enough and how would I have felt if that 'baby' had been me? I was eight or nine. Catholic guilt started early in those days.
I don't know why but it has lived with me ever since. Overwhelming at times and a struggle to let go of all the self-worth, control and failure issues that the memory revisits.
The recent atrocities that are going on around the world has reminded me of those paper icons. Posts on social media, news items, email notifications challenge my perceived discipleship. The future world of my own grandchildren is at stake as much as the present world of the little ones lost each day. And the world seems frozen, unable to act. I feel unable to act.
In the gospel, Jesus is set on stirring people. The 'crowd', satiated and made well, sit complacently at his feet and are dismissed, having to make the walk home that will leave them hungry again - and then what?
The disciples, sitting back on their, by association, laurels yet again, need to be reminded that there are others who are waiting to experience the good news - and so what?
It doesn't even take that long to cross the Galilee - two hours or so - suggesting that the disciples have been reluctant to complete the journey. Perhaps they were replenishing their larder from the deep. Then the storm hits. The fishermen should have noticed the signs. Maybe they did, but thought they could cope. Into a head wind they couldn't use the sail so they would have rowed - and rowed for hours to still be at it at fourth watch. At least twelve strong men, at least four experienced boatmen; surely working together they could have made some headway. Jesus watching from the hill must have been perplexed. Were they together, arms straining to follow a steady beat as the oar fought the waves? Or were they arguing and blaming, doubting themselves and doubting, yet again, the direction in which Jesus is sending them? The shrieks of fear suggest the latter.
The whole world feels like that boat at the moment. A storm of raging and mindless violence threatens and assails the very existence of a civilised society. Diplomacy and reconciliation have taken residence on a far off shore that we are being driven further and further away from. Practical help seems a drop in a ocean; reasoning -futile. Signing petitions, sponsoring projects, sharing media information feels like straining at the oars. It feels that we are helpless; that God is a ghost of a dream - that we are on our own now.
At that final moment, when Peter realises he could lose his life and the lives of his friends; he also realises that he cannot save himself.
Peter is a doubter in a boat full of doubters who, for a moment, walks in complete faith. And whilst faith doesn't last, when Peter calls - Jesus is there, the strong hand to a drowning man. And then, as Jesus enters their lives again, everyone is made safe.
Peter is often portrayed as the one who gets it wrong. What he gets right, what he teaches us, is that when all seems lost - hope, trust, pray.
Give me courage.
Call me to you.
Lord, do what I cannot do.