So there they were, 4 miles out into the sea. It was about 3 am. (“the fourth watch of the night”,) and they hit a storm. Wind and waves were so strong as to make the apostles fear that they might drown.
I can’t think of a more frightening way to die. I learned to swim when I was about 8 or 9 years old, but I’ve never been very good at it. The swim instructor would tell us, “Relax, the water will hold you up. Don’t fight the water, it will only tire you out.” I never could trust this, and so any time I’m in water over my head, I’m pretty anxious.
The apostles were fishermen. We can presume they had seen their share of stormy seas. But, tonight was different . . . fear gripped them all. Adding to the terror was the strange figure of a man walking on the water toward them. “A ghost”, they thought. Surely tonight we die. So the apostles “cried out in fear.”
I don’t know about you, but I would be just as scared as they were. Life sometimes resembles that stormy night. Our life is tossed about by many things . . . sickness, a runaway child, a lost job, a broken relationship, a freak accident. All seems lost. We cry out in fear.
Then something happens. Peter calls out, “Is that you Lord? Call for me to come to you.” “Come,” he hears.
Now here’s the part that really gets me. In spite of all that’s happening around him . . . the huge waves splashing over the boat, the howling wind and screaming apostles . . . he gets out of the boat! Oh Peter, “No! You’ll drown!”
What was he thinking, this rough and impetuous fisherman? It seems to have been a blind act of TRUST. A trust that the voice he heard was his friend telling him not to be afraid. “Take courage. It is I.”
Now where do you think this amazing act of trust came from? Do you think Peter just sort of sum-moned it up out of his human heart? (Remember he was the one who, when confronted by the little servant girl, denied he ever knew Jesus). Do you think it was deep inside him just waiting for such a moment to show his great courage and faith? I don’t think so.
It was a moment of Grace. “A free and unmerited favor of God”, says the Catholic Encyclopedia, “given to empower a person to act for goodness.”
Somehow Peter was touched beyond his natural fear at that moment to turn to his Lord in faith. And lo!! He began to walk on the water toward Christ. (His faith would falter a moment later, of course, when he looked back to the waves around him and in doing so took his eyes off the one he trusted.)
But here’s the point. The grace to trust that the Lord is with you is a favor that God promises us (it’s on every page of the New Testament — but like Peter, we must call out, “Lord is that you?”)
“Help me Lord. I believe, help my unbelief.” These are wonderful prayers. Now trust . . . not in your goodness, but in God’s goodness to you.
Oh Lord, my boat is so small and your ocean is so big . . .