Learning to walk on water: A lesson of faith and miracles

Jesus’ question to Peter has been ringing through my head over the last few weeks. “Why did you doubt?” Peter had stepped out onto the water — in faith — walking toward Christ. One would think Peter’s reaction would be elation, something akin to Dash’s giddy realization that his superpowers allowed him to run across water in Pixar’s “The Incredibles.”

But Peter is no superhuman. He is human, like me.

Christ has done the impossible in my life. He knit an incredible baby boy in my womb. He found me a spouse more wonderful than I ever could have imagined. He allowed my father to recover from a stroke. He gave my grandmother a happy death.

I should have no reason to doubt. But I am human.

Like Peter, even when life is great and I’m walking on water, my gaze turns to the waves. Dark, mysterious and wild like the waves, the dangers around me do not care about my fate. We are in the middle of a global pandemic; my social interactions have been virtualized, reduced and distanced; my family faces its own health struggles; there’s job uncertainty; the political climate is unstable; and on and on and on.

When I look at the waves, like Peter, I sink.

Peter must have realized, “That’s water under my feet — I’ll fall through!” and “There’s a wave coming; if I was able to stand before, I won’t be able to then!” and “Jesus is too far — if I sink now, he won’t be able to catch me!” All his calculations would have led him to a singular conclusion: I am in danger, and I have no defense. So he sank.

I did too.

I love the frequent use of the word “immediately” in certain parts of Scripture. This passage from Matthew is no exception. As soon as Peter called out, Jesus immediately picked him back up. It doesn’t tell us how far away Jesus was when Peter called, but I like to think that he wasn’t standing right there. He rushed to Peter because he loved him.

It was then, when Jesus was there with his hands around Peter’s, and Peter caught his breath, that Jesus asked, “Why did you doubt?” Gazing into the face of Christ, how could Peter answer? In that moment after Jesus had saved him, it was obvious that the power of darkness pales to the power of God. Though evil may threaten and bare its teeth, no wave can touch you if God has forbidden it. Time and again he has performed miracles in my life and said “your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom” (Lk 12:32). So why do I continue to doubt that he loves me enough to look out for me?

It is my human tendency.

Yet, God does not condemn me for it. Neither did Christ condemn Peter, who denied him three times for the same reason. Despite Peter’s struggle of internalizing doubt beyond reason — even to the point where Jesus chided him, “Get behind me, Satan. … You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do” (Mt 16:23) — Christ endowed him with a most important mission. Despite his weakness, this was the man whom Christ made the first pope; who was favored with visions of Elijah, Moses and Jesus’ own Transfiguration; whose mother-in-law was healed; whose fish harvest Jesus multiplied; who walked on water; and on and on and on.

“Why did you doubt?”

One day, Peter was able to remember Christ’s gaze, even as he faced a wave. This was true to such an extent that he faced a martyr’s death with joy.

I want to remember. I want to remember even when the waves come.

Until then, Christ keeps scooping me out. He pulls me up out of my darkness — sometimes for a moment, sometimes for longer — and in that moment, his simple question echoes joyfully within.

And if God can do so much with Peter, who sank the very same way, I wonder what miracles will he choose to do with me?

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