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.