As we saw in the previous post, John’s account of Jesus walking on water is very brief. He leaves out details found in Matthew and Mark, as if wanting to hurry on to the next part of the story (which, in fact, is unique to him). John tells us that the disciples saw Jesus walking toward them and were afraid, but doesn’t say why. And after Jesus reassured them, the only thing we’re told about the disciples’ reaction is that they’re willing to take him into the boat.
That seems like a rather underwhelming response. You’d think there would be more to say than that.
And there is.
Matthew’s gospel narrates what happened between the time Jesus reassured his frightened men and the moment he climbed into the boat:
Just then Jesus spoke to them, “Be encouraged! It’s me. Don’t be afraid.” Peter replied, “Lord, if it’s you, order me to come to you on the water.” And Jesus said, “Come.” Then Peter got out of the boat and was walking on the water toward Jesus. But when Peter saw the strong wind, he became frightened. As he began to sink, he shouted, “Lord, rescue me!” Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him, saying, “You man of weak faith! Why did you begin to have doubts?” When they got into the boat, the wind settled down. Then those in the boat worshipped Jesus and said, “You must be God’s Son!” (Matt 14:27-33, CEB)
I think we can have a little compassion for Peter. If there were a twelve-inch wide stripe painted on the ground, we would have no trouble walking it, prancing on it, maybe even doing cartwheels. But what if it was instead a twelve-inch board suspended between two towers, a hundred feet in the air?
Then we might see how strong our doubts were, as compared to our faith.
Yes, Jesus chastised Peter for the weakness of his faith. But I imagine that the tone was less, “Peter, you’re such a loser,” and more, “Oh, Peter, you were doing so well. Why didn’t you keep your eyes on me?”
And note: Jesus didn’t hesitate to reach down and grab Peter when he needed it. He didn’t let Peter flounder so he could learn his lesson, and he didn’t levitate Peter out of the water. He gave him what a terrified Peter probably needed and wanted most at that moment: the strong grip of someone reaching down to rescue him from his plight.
And when Jesus and Peter climbed into the boat, and the wind died down, the disciples exclaimed that Jesus had to be the very Son of God.
That’s the reaction that’s missing in John’s story: worship. For this is the God who not only has power over the elements, but who reaches down to take hold of us when the waters are rough.