Walking on Water

Today’s gospel, Matthew 14. 22–33, has been niggling me all morning. Poor old Peter, leaping out of the boat into heavy seas to come to Jesus across the water — an act of faith, if ever there was one — ends up sinking and being chided for his lack of faith. How many of the Lord’s disciples have subsequently chided others for their lack of faith, as though faith were the solution to every difficulty? Only have sufficient faith and your illness will be cured, your life transformed and everything will be fine. That is not faith. That is wishful thinking, and it dishonours both God, the giver of faith, and his children, the recipients, to think of it as something we control or can summon up at will. The great St Teresa of Avila was wont to say there were days when she couldn’t even swat a fly for the love of God. I am quite sure it would take a miracle to persuade me to leap into a rough sea, and I would undoubtedly be out of countenance if the Lord were then to say I lacked faith!

Perhaps the real point of today’s gospel is not our human conception of faith at all. God doesn’t (usually) ask superhuman courage of us, nor does he (usually) require reckless behaviour. Least of all does he ask us to judge the faith of another. What I think he does ask of us, as he asked of Peter, is something much more difficult – the readiness to respond to his love in any and every situation. He answered Peter’s prayer, ‘Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you over the water’ with one word, ‘Come!’ That should teach us to be careful what we pray for, and to be ready to respond when The Lord answers.


7 thoughts on “Walking on Water”

  1. ”… be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect” sounds like a daily superhuman calling, but fear not for what ” may seem impossible for us in not impossible for God.”

    It is our response to God’s grace [as you also say] that is most important.

    For we are indeed called to be heroic in our ‘response to God’s call and as long as we respond authentically and fully the grace will always be there for us to surge onward. It is our daily grind of true love focused by Faith that slowly brings us closer to the goal of perfection held before us by Jesus. Hopefully one day we will achieve some measure of perfection, but the desire for it is at least the beginning of daily heavenly motion.

  2. I believe this was a literal happening, but not an act of faith as we perhaps understand it. It was an un-thought through, automatic response that only failed when Peter’s conscious mind entered the equation and unbidden questioned the fact he was defying the laws of physics.
    Inter-reacting with another dimension, or with those from it,
    or walking on water has always made humans frightened, even terrified, when they suddenly realise what is going on. It is why the ( St. Mary) Holy Mother’s relatively calm acceptance of a messenger of God is so utterley amazing.

    • Thank you. I’m actually following the Fathers in reflecting on the nature of faith as suggested by this passage. Whether the incident ‘really’ happened or not, what the psychological undercurrents were, is, from that point of view, unimportant; but I think we can all gain something of value by meditating on the gospel and its meaning.

      • My apologies, I always seem to miss the point, but yesterdays piece has over night opened my eyes to something I had never thought of. I believe Jesus is teasing Peter in a humorous, loving way for not having enough faith, as one would gently tease a friend. How lovely.

  3. ‘Be careful what you pray for’: yes indeed.
    I too have been pondering today’s gospel. Often, I have wished that we were told something of Jesus’ expression or tone of voice as he spoke. I grew up with the impression – from Sunday readings – that the Lord was rather severe and humourless. His effect on the people who encountered him suggests otherwise, however. Today, thinking about Jesus’ apparent criticism of Peter, I noticed that the first thing he did in response to Peter’s cry for help was to act: he grasped his hand, and only when holding Peter safe did he chide him. I wonder if his words were perhaps spoken gently, with a wry but compassionate smile. After all, Jesus must have seen more clearly than any of us how ready and willing was Peter’s spirit – and the Lord’s actions at that moment of crisis surely show us that he never begrudges our need for his support in our sometimes wavering faith.

  4. I wonder how we judge our faith? Wishful thinking is that we hope that our faith is one of total trust in God and immersed in his grace, but reality is that our human frailty makes us vulnerable to that as a false vanity, rather than an essential truth. How would our faith hold up in the face of the adversity faced by those Christians in Iraq who who have been challenged to convert to a faith that believes in and worships the same God as Christians in fear of death, and have either been martyred or have fled in the face of it all.

    Our faith can be so profoundly deep and founded in a trust of God to death, or be superficial enough in the face of such a threat that we would readily except the that conversion is life preserving and we can always recant later when safe. If we’re given the chance?

    Peter’s faith was that life giving faith displayed in his stepping out in faith to meet Jesus on the water, but his humanity and fear broke it down so he began to sink. Later as we know, when he was martyred for his faith, when the Holy Spirit had given him the strength and grace to resist. That deeply founded faith, founded on conviction and his real experience of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, that faith passed down through generations who followed him to a Martyrs death.

    I pray that we’ll never have to face it, but if we do, we have Peter’s strength of faith to sustain us.

  5. I always think of this as another story that shows us Peter’s character – always wanting to get stuck in and be doing. Leaping without looking, so to speak. It reminds me of his antics during the Tran figuration.

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